How healthy are your kidneys?

You probably don’t often think about your kidneys.  If you have never experienced a problem with them you would have no reason to.  However, kidney disease tends to creep up on people, not causing symptoms until it becomes severe.

The kidneys are bean shaped organs that are the size of a clenched fist.  They are located near the middle of the back, just below the ribcage.  The main job of the kidneys is to remove waste products from the blood, where they are excreted into urine.  The kidneys filter one litre of blood each minute! 

Unfortunately the number of Australians getting sick or dying from kidney failure is rapidly rising; this is often due to avoidable factors such as high blood pressure.  In 2007 there were 3,230 deaths in Australia due to disease of the kidneys or urinary tract.  These diseases are now in the top ten leading causes of death.  Fortunately many of these deaths can be prevented.

Risk factors for chronic kidney disease include:

  • High blood pressure.  If undiagnosed or untreated, high blood pressure can cause significant damage to the kidneys.  This is because the excess pressure places stress on the delicate capillaries within the kidneys, damaging them.
  • High blood sugar.  Diabetes greatly increases the risk of kidney damage.
  • Kidney infections.
  • Autoimmune disease of the kidneys, such as glomerulonephritis.
  • Chronic use of some medications
  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoking

The kidneys usually cope well with minor damage, and can still carry out their functions well.  If kidney function falls below 25 percent, serious health problems develop.  If kidney function drops below 15 percent, dialysis is usually required.

The most important things you can do to protect your kidneys are:

  • Avoid becoming overweight or a diabetic.
  • Get your blood pressure checked and make sure it is not too high.  There are a number of natural ways to lower blood pressure, but in some cases medication is required.
  • Treat all urinary tract infections promptly.
  • Drink enough water so that your urine is fairly clear, with a mild yellow tinge.
  • See your doctor if you experience pain in your mid to lower back.  Your kidneys are just below your bottom ribs.