Kidney disease affects about 37 million Americans, which is 15 percent of the adult population. Yet, most people (90 percent) do not even know that they have it. March honors National Kidney Month and March 11 is World Kidney Day, a time to raise awareness and understanding about kidney disease, especially how the kidneys function and their importance to our overall health.
What Is Kidney Disease?
Humans have two bean-shaped kidneys that are about the size of a fist. They are located just below the rib cage on either side of the spine. The kidneys’ function is to filter and remove wastes and toxic substances from the body through the urine.
- Remove drugs from the body
- Balance the body’s fluids
- Release hormones that regulate blood pressure
- Produce an active form of vitamin D
- Control the production of red blood cells
Healthy kidneys can filter and return about 200 quarts of fluid to the body every day. Two quarts are removed from the body through urine, where it was stored in the bladder for one to 8 hours.
Kidney disease occurs when dangerous levels of fluids, electrolytes, and wastes build up in the body. A condition goes from acute to chronic when abnormal kidney function lasts for three months or longer. People with increased risk of kidney disease include those who:
- are older
- have diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have a family member with chronic kidney disease
- are African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Native American
Kidney Disease Types and Causes
There are two main types of kidney disease: acute kidney disease, which is a short-term condition, and chronic kidney disease, which is lifelong.
Chronic kidney disease is a serious condition and affects 37 million people. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans are at risk for kidney disease. Kidney disease can be inherited, or it results from other diseases.
Diseases that can lead to kidney disease include:
- Diabetes: Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. Diabetes results when the body does not make enough insulin or does not use normal amounts of insulin properly, causing high blood sugar levels.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure can cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken, and harden, damaging the arteries and not allowing them to deliver enough blood to kidney tissue.
- Glomerulonephritis: Glomerulonephritis causes inflammation in the tiny filtering units of the kidney known as glomeruli. It can happen suddenly, such as after an infection, or over a long period of time, decreasing kidney function.
- Polycystic kidney disease (PKD): This is the most common form of inherited kidney disease. PKD causes cysts to form in the kidneys that can then cause serious kidney damage or kidney failure. Other inherited kidney diseases are Alport’s Syndrome, cystinuria, and primary hyperoxaluria.
- Congenital diseases: Some conditions that occur in utero can affect the kidneys, most notably problems that occur in the urinary tract that cause urine to back up into the kidneys.
- Drugs and toxins: Long-term use of some drugs, including over-the-counter pain relievers, can be harmful to the kidneys. Certain other medications, toxins, and illicit drugs can also cause damage to the kidneys.
Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Kidney disease worsens over time. See a doctor if the following symptoms occur, which can be signs of kidney failure:
- Changes in urination, especially a reduced amount of urine
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet due to retention of fluids caused by the kidneys’ inability to eliminate water waste
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Excessive drowsiness or fatigue
- Persistent nausea
- Pain or pressure in the chest
Treatment for kidney disease may include dialysis or transplant, if severe.
Ways to Combat Chronic Kidney Disease
Because kidney disease is progressive, adopting a healthy lifestyle is important to slow progression. Following are healthy lifestyle tips to improve your chances of kidney health:
- See a doctor regularly to monitor your kidney health.
- Control your blood pressure.
- Manage your blood glucose levels.
- Take medicine as prescribed, avoiding NSAIDs such as ibuprofen
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce stress and manage depression.
- Participate in daily physical activity.
- Get enough sleep.
- Quit smoking.
For more information on kidney disease, consult the National Kidney Foundation website, where you will find everything from disease basics to treatment to support. The Southern California chapter can be reached by phone at 800-747-5527 or by email.
Herrick Library Resources
The following books can be reserved and checked out via curbside pickup:
- The 30-Minute Renal Diet Cookbook: Easy, Flavorful Recipes for Every State of Kidney Disease, by Aisling Whelan
- 100 Questions & Answers About Kidney Disease and Hypertension, by Raymond Townsend
- Borrowing Life: How Scientists, Surgeons, and a War Hero Made the First Successful Organ Transplant a Reality, by Shelley Fraser Mickle
- Kinsey’s Kidney Adventure: A Story of Love, Compassion, and Humanity, by Nadine Mosi (picture book)
- My New Kidney & Me: A PKD Patient’s Transplant Story, by Greg Baldauf
Sources: American Heart Association, How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Kidney Damage or Failure, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure/how-high-blood-pressure-can-lead-to-kidney-damage-or-failure#:~:text=flow%20through%20them.-,Over%20time%2C%20uncontrolled%20high%20blood%20pressure%20can%20cause%20arteries%20around,nephrons%20that%20filter%20your%20blood; Mayo Clinic, Chronic Kidney Disease, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354521; National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Kidney Month, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/community-health-outreach/national-kidney-month#:~:text=March%20is%20National%20Kidney%20Month,blood%20pressure%20and%20kidney%20disease.; NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Your Kidneys & How They Work, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work; National Kidney Foundation, Kidney Disease: The Basics, https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/factsheets/KidneyDiseaseBasics#:~:text=It%20affects%20an%20estimated%2037,even%20know%20they%20have%20it.; National Kidney Foundation, https://www.kidney.org/