TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Just below the rib cage on either side of the spine are two fist-sized organs that are vital to our survival – our kidneys.
They each have about a million microscopic filters called nephrons, which process all of the blood in our bodies several times each day. This process filters toxins from about 150 quarts of blood, creating up to two quarts of urine that contains wastes and excess bodily fluid.
The kidneys are important to our health for many reasons. They prevent the buildup of wastes and fluid in the body. They stabilize electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and phosphate, which are essential for the normal functioning of our cells and organs. And they generate hormones that help produce red blood cells, regulate blood pressure and maintain bone strength.
Sometimes the kidneys slowly stop functioning. Without treatment, this decline can progress to chronic kidney disease.
The cause of chronic kidney disease is not always known, but any condition that damages blood vessels can negatively affect the kidneys. One common cause is diabetes, because elevated blood sugar levels over a long period of time damage the kidneys’ blood vessels.
Preventing Kidney Failure
When kidney function falls below a certain point, it is called kidney failure. As with any condition, the earlier kidney disease is detected, the sooner treatment can begin to slow down its progression and prevent kidney failure.
The first step is to determine and treat the underlying cause. Since diabetes and high blood pressure account for 66 percent of chronic kidney disease, preventing or managing those conditions through diet, exercise and appropriate medication is important in protecting the kidneys.
Phelps helps patients prevent renal diseases and disorders more than most community hospitals. “My colleagues and I are experienced in performing the most advanced laparoscopic and minimally invasive reconstructive procedures through small access sites without large incisions,” says urologist Michael Grasso, MD. “As a result, our patients heal more quickly and are able to return to normal activities much sooner. There is also less pain than with open surgery.”
Some other issues associated with kidneys are:
- Kidney Stones: Kidney stones are formed from the crystallization of certain substances in urine, such as calcium, oxalate, or uric acid. The stones can affect any part of the urinary tract – from the kidneys to the bladder. Kidney stones are more common among men.
- Ureteral Obstruction: Urine travels from the kidneys to the bladder through thin, muscular tubes called ureters. There is one ureter for each kidney, and each is 8 to 10 inches long. Sometimes the ureters become blocked and the flow of urine to the bladder is impeded. The most common cause of ureteral obstruction is ureteral or kidney stones.
- Kidney Cancer: The incidence of kidney cancer is growing in the United States. Fortunately, most kidney cancers are detected before they metastasize (spread) to other organs. Today, the majority of kidney tumors are removed in a partial nephrectomy, in which advanced laparoscopic techniques and special imaging are used to remove the tumor and some tissue around it without a large incision.
Click here to read more about kidney disease in the Phelps Hospital Spring newsletter.
Michael Grasso, MD, is Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology at New York Medical College, as well as Regional Director of Urology for the North Shore-LIJ Health System.