By Emsie Martin
One doesn’t always pay any mind to the herculean task performed by your kidneys. These two small organs in your body actually constitute the body’s purification plant.
What do the kidneys do?
Your kidneys’ most important function is to get rid of waste products. The metabolic processes in your body during which food is converted into energy produce waste products such as urea and uric acid, which accumulate in your blood. The kidneys filter these waste products from the blood and convert them into urine, which is collected by the renal calyces and accumulates in the renal pelvis. From there it is transferred to the bladder by means of the ureters and eliminated.
Other functions of your kidneys include:
- the regulation of the body’s pH levels through the reabsorption of bicarbonate from the urine and the release of hydrogen in the urine;
- the regulation of blood pressure, which depends on the amount of sodium chloride (salt) absorbed from the blood;
- the secretion of hormones such as renin (which elevates blood pressure) and erythropoietin (which stimulates the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow); and
- the absorption of vitamin D (which affects the absorption of calcium).
Common kidney diseases
Chronic kidney diseases, kidney stones, kidney injuries, kidney infection, cysts and cancer are some of the most common diseases associated with the kidneys.
According to Health24.com chronic kidney disease is on the increase and is three to four times more prevalent in Africa than in developed countries. These life-endangering diseases are irreversible but with early diagnosis the concomitant dangers such as heart problems, can be treated in time. It is therefore very important that people who are regarded as high-risk cases should go for medical tests regularly.
People who have an increased risk of kidney disease include people with high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as people with a family history of kidney-related illnesses.
Advanced cases of chronic kidney disease need kidney replacement therapy in the form of haemodialysis or a kidney transplant. During dialysis a mechanical device is used to remove waste products such as creatinine, urea and excess water from the blood.
Possible signs of kidney disease
Even in cases of serious kidney diseases a patient sometimes does not experience any symptoms. The South African Kidney Foundation advises people to see a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- high blood pressure and constant headaches
- shortness of breath
- swollen hands, feet and ankles
- poor appetite and weight loss
- nausea and tiredness
- bodily pain and muscle cramps
- more frequent urinating at night
Keep your kidneys healthy
The American Kidney Disease Education Program (NKDEP) provides the following guidelines on keeping your kidneys healthy:
- Make sure you maintain a constant blood pressure at the target level set by your doctor. In doing this, you can delay or prevent kidney failure.
- Control your blood glucose level if you have diabetes.
- Make sure that your cholesterol stays within the target limits.
- Make sure you use medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor. (Some blood-pressure medicine can help to protect your kidneys.)
- Use less salt. Try to use less than 1 500 mg of sodium a day.
- Eat food that is good for your heart, such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrain food and low-fat dairy products.
- Limit your alcohol intake and do not smoke.
- Exercise regularly.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
And most important ─ keep your kidneys healthy!
National Kidney Foundation – 011 447 2531 of firstname.lastname@example.org
Gauteng Kidney Association – 011 462 0510 of email@example.com
Cape Kidney Association – 021 761 1326 of firstname.lastname@example.org