Have you thought about your kidneys lately? More than 26 million Americans have kidney disease, but many don’t know it until it’s too late. That’s why the National Kidney Foundation urges patients at high risk for kidney disease—people with high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney disease and people over 60, to be screened. Here’s what you need to know about kidney function, kidney health and kidney disease.
What are Kidneys?
Kidneys perform six major functions:
- Regulate fluids
- Filter waste from the bloodstream
- Balance minerals and pH in the bloodstream
- Regulate blood pressure
- Promote red blood cell production
- Secrete important hormones
When one or more of these functions are impaired, a patient is said to have kidney disease.
What is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease occurs whenever the kidneys are damaged, inflamed or infected. Fluids and wastes build up, causing the body to swell and weaken, pH and mineral levels go out of balance, and bone health may be affected. After about three months, the person is said to have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and may have to use a hemodialysis machine to compensate for regular kidney function. Some people carry higher risk for kidney disease, but there are various causes that can affect anyone.
What Causes Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease can be caused by:
- Diabetes (Types I and II). Diabetic nephropathy, or diabetes–related kidney disease, is caused by capillary damage and scarring to the kidneys. Diabetics are recommended to get screened through an albumin test at least annually.
- Long–term use of analgesic drugs, such as aspirin, acetaminophen and NSAID drugs (e.g. ibuprofen and naproxen). People who have to take pain medications regularly should have regular kidney screenings.
- Urinary tract infections, which can lead to kidney damage if left untreated for long periods.
- Family history, or inherited kidney disease, which often manifests as polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Cysts form and grow, obstructing kidney function and causing abdominal pain. IgA nephropathy is another common genetic disorder resulting in kidney disease.
- Diseases which affect the immune system, such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, lupus and a variety of bacterial and viral infections.
- Intravenous illicit drugs, which raise toxin levels in the bloodstream. Some research also links alcoholism and tobacco use with kidney disease.
- Traumatic injuries (especially acute injury to the kidneys themselves)
- Prostate disease, which blocks urine flow.
- Chronic dehydration.
What Can You Do?
Fortunately, there are preventative steps you can take to avoid kidney disease, and plenty of treatment options for disease management. If you suspect you might be at risk, you should schedule a screening. Blood tests and urine tests are both available. You can also get a complete metabolic panel at Five Star Urgent Care.