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Kidneys perform a life-sustaining job

By Kathy Hubbard
Put your hand up if you know what your kidneys do? Maybe we all do know that the kidneys’ major function is to remove waste and excess fluid from the body through urination giving our bodies the ability to balance our body chemicals.
“The critical regulation of the body’s salt, potassium and acid content is performed by the kidneys, the National Kidney Foundation explains. “The kidneys also produce hormones that affect the function of other organs. For example, a hormone produced by the kidneys stimulates red blood cell production. Other hormones produced by the kidneys help regulate blood pressure and control calcium metabolism.”
The kidneys also produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones. Not surprisingly, the NKF calls the kidneys powerful chemical factories in their bid to promote March as National Kidney Month.
Our kidneys are about the size of a fist, and are located at either side of the spine at the bottom of the rib cage.
“Each kidney contains up to a million functioning units called nephrons. A nephron consists of a filtering unit of tiny blood vessels called a glomerulus attached to a tubule. When blood enters the glomerulus, it is filtered and the remaining fluid then passes along the tubule. In the tubule, chemicals and water are either added to or removed from this filtered fluid according to the body’s needs, the final product being the urine we excrete,” NFK says.
“The kidneys perform their life-sustaining job of filtering and returning to the bloodstream about 200 quarts of fluid every 24 hours. About two quarts are removed from the body in the form of urine, and about 198 quarts are recovered. The urine we excrete has been stored in the bladder for anywhere from 1 to 8 hours.”
That’s interesting, huh? So, all’s well if they keep functioning the way they’re supposed to. But, unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Kidney disease can be caused by a variety of factors. The leading cause is diabetes. High blood pressure also causes kidney disease as well as heart disease and the risk of stroke.
“Glomerulonephritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the kidney’s tiny filtering units called the glomeruli,” NKF says. This is typically a progressive disease, but it can come on after a bout of strep throat.
A disease that causes cysts to form and damage the kidneys called polycystic kidney disease is most often inherited. Extremely painful, kidney stones can also be inherited but also can be caused by medications and diet.
“Urinary tract infections occur when germs enter the urinary tract and cause symptoms such as pain and/or burning during urination and more frequent need to urinate. These infections most often affect the bladder, but they sometimes spread to the kidneys, and they may cause fever and pain in your back,” NKF says.
Congenital diseases may also affect the kidneys and drugs and toxins can also cause kidney problems. We’ve all read about how over-the-counter pain medications can be harmful. Another reminder to be sure we all read labels of any potions we ingest.
Your healthcare professional will perform some simple tests to look for early onset kidney disease. First a urine test. “Albumin to Creatinine Ratio (ACR) estimates the amount of albumin that is in your urine. An excess amount of protein in your urine may mean your kidney’s filtering units have been damaged by disease,” NFK says.
Then you’ll have a blood test for blood creatinine. Using your age, race gender and other factors, your healthcare provider will calculate your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Those are some big words that come down to the fact that this test will determine your kidney function.
If you experience blood in your urine; find yourself urinating more frequently, especially at night; if urinating is painful or difficult; if you have puffiness around your eyes, or if your hands and feet are swelling, please see your medico right away. Kidney disease can be treated if, like so many things, it’s diagnosed early.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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