Spring is the perfect time to take charge of your health and a good place to start is by learning more about your kidneys. Get to know what they do, risk factors for and consequences of kidney disease, and the tests and screenings that are key for early detection of kidney disorders.
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, about the size of a fist, located on either side of your spine right below the rib cage. The job of the kidneys is to eliminate extra water and waste from your body, and the kidneys achieve this by producing urine. Kidneys also make hormones that help control the production of red blood cells and regulate blood pressure.
Kidney disease refers to a state in which your kidneys are damaged and not functioning normally. An estimated 37 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD). One in 3 Americans are at risk for kidney disease. People with high blood pressure and diabetes are at greatest risk as these are the leading cause of kidney failure.
CKD has a silent course with few or no symptoms until very late in the disease course. As a result, it may be overlooked until symptoms appear and the kidneys are significantly damaged – making it all the more important for at-risk individuals to take actions as early as possible to slow the loss of kidney function. The third leading cause of CKD is glomerulonephritis – a collection of inflammatory conditions that damage the kidney’s filtering system. Other conditions that can lead to CKD include obstruction of the kidneys due to kidney stones, genetic conditions such as polycystic kidney disease, and atherosclerosis of the blood vessels that perfuse the kidneys.
If you are at risk, you should ensure your primary care doctor is regularly screening you for CKD. The two main types of tests your physician will use to determine your kidney health are:
- Estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), which provides a measure of how much blood your kidneys are filtering. This test looks at the level of a blood chemical called creatinine which is filtered by the kidneys, and estimates your GFR with the inclusion of other factors such as age, body size, and gender. If your GFR is low, this is an indication that your kidneys are not working as well as they should and provides a numerical valuation of the extent of your kidney disease.
- Urine Protein to creatinine ratio (UPCR), which determines whether there is an abnormal amount of protein leaking into your urine. An abnormal amount of protein leakage is often one of the earliest signs of kidney disease and also provides prognostic information into the likelihood of your kidney disease worsening over time.
If kidney disease is detected, actions can be taken to slow the loss of kidney function. Individuals with CKD often will continue to lose kidney function over time, eventually causing waste products to build up and cause multiple effects on the body such as weak bones, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and problems with the heart and vascular system. Some symptoms of CKD to watch for include:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Poor appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble concentrating
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Muscle cramps
- Frequent experiencing of a bitter or metal taste
A healthy lifestyle is critical for managing CKD and slowing its progression and complications. Make sure to take charge of your kidney health by meeting regularly with your health care team, ensuring your blood pressure and your blood glucose are at optimal levels, maintaining a healthy body weight, and choosing a healthy lifestyle.
A few small changes today can go a long way to keeping your kidneys healthier!
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Kidney Foundation and the NIDDK (nih.gov)