The kidney is one of a pair of extremely important organs located behind the abdominal cavity, on either side of the backbone, just underneath the rib cage. Their most important function is to purify the blood.
The kidneys regulate the volume, composition, and acidity of body fluids. They do this by means of a filtering system that handles about 50 liters of blood every hour. Blood reaches the kidneys from the heart through the renal artery. Fluids and dissolved salts from the blood are collected in microscopic filtering units called nephrons.
Then most of the water and the required salts are reabsorbed into the capillaries and returned to the heart by the way of the renal veins. Excess water and other waste materials are left behind as urine. This is collected into small chambers opening into the central part of the kidney, and drains away to the bladder through the ureter.
In healthy people thirst usually regulates fluid intake so that about a liter of urine is produced every day. A great deal of water is also lost by evaporation from the lungs and the skin. Usually the amount of urine increases markedly when there is a sudden change in the weather from hot to cold, because then the kidneys have to dispose of excess water that is no longer lost by perspiration.
Congenital abnormalities of the kidneys are fairly common. These abnormalities are not necessarily serious threats to health. The kidneys have a great deal of reserve capacity, and it is possible to get along quite well with only one kidney. However, it is not possible to survive without adequate kidney function.
Any disease or injury that interferes with kidney function is potentially very serious. Sometimes a heart condition prevents blood from being adequately cycled through the kidneys. In most cases, however, the condition is due to some infection or other cause that affects the kidneys directly.
This type of kidney diseases builds up very slowly over several years before it becomes serious enough to cause obvious symptoms. An annual medical checkup, including Urinalysis and Blood tests, is good insurance against chronic kidney conditions.
This type of kidney disease also affects the urine, often in more obvious ways. If there is blood in the urine, you should see a doctor. Other symptoms of acute kidney diseases may include a marked decrease in the amount of urine voided. Elimination of urine may be frequent, or accompanied by a burning sensation. There may be puffiness in the face and limbs, and back pain just under the ribs.
Kidney stones and abnormalities in the structure of the kidney are other possible sources of kidney trouble.
A small mass of solid matter that has been separated out of the urine to form a stone in the kidney. Kidney stones are fairly common in the Urinary Tract. The stones vary in size and shape from tiny particles like grains of sands to large, branched formations filling much of the space in the kidney.
Very small particles may be voided without a person knowing it. Larger stones may cause intense pain and damage if they leave the kidney and pass through the urinary tract. They may also block the ureter and prevent urine from leaving the kidney. Stones too large to enter the ureters may cause serious mechanical damage to the delicate tissues surrounding them.
Any kidney stone that causes trouble may lead to serious may lead to serious complications. It must be removed as soon as possible, usually by surgery. Some persons have a tendency to form stones repeatedly. By making a thorough medical examination—including, if possible, a chemical analysis of a stone that has been voided or removed—the doctor can sometimes identify the cause in a particular case.
The doctor may prescribe a special diet or medicine to help prevent formation, once the cause has been determined. Frequently, treatment includes drinking large amounts of water than usual so that the urine is kept dilute enough to hold all dissolved salts in solution and keep them from forming a hard mass.
Inflammation of the kidneys, commonly Bright’s disease. The medical name is glomerulonephritis. There are acute and chronic forms of nephritis. The acute form attacks children more often than adults. Nephritis is usually preceded by a Streptococcus infection elsewhere in the body. Many cases of nephritis could be prevented if every streptococcal infection were treated with antibiotics.
The symptoms of nephritis may be very mild or severe. They include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and fever. The eyes and face may look puffy, and the ankles and other parts of the body may be swollen with accumulated fluid. The urine often has a dark or cloudy appearance.
Kidney malfunction accompanied by pronounced Edema (swelling) due to accumulated fluid. The kidneys seem to lose the ability to regulate the fluid content of the body. In addition, abnormal protein, fats, and other substances are excreted in the urine. Nephrosis or nephrotic syndrome, is not a single, distinct disease. It may occur as a stage in Nephritis. It may be associated with other diseases or with certain toxic substances. There is no specific cure for nephrosis except treatment of the underlying cause.
Inflammation of the central part of the kidney, where urine collects and drains through the ureter into the bladder. Pyelitis results from infection, which often reaches the kidney from lower parts of the urinary tract. In some cases, the infection originates in a different part of the body and is carried to the kidney through the bloodstream or lymph system.
Pyelitis is especially likely to occur in persons with diabetes and in women during pregnancy. The symptoms include pain in one or both sides of the lower back, chills and fever, and a burning sensation on urination. There is a frequent urge to urinate, but the total amount of urine is scanty. The urine may be bloody or cloudy with pus.
Sulfa compounds (Sulfonamides) and Penicilin or other antibiotics are very effective in clearing up the infection, but a doctor should be seen at once. If not treated promptly, pyelitis is likely to spread and involve the whole kidney, perhaps damaging it permanently
A toxic condition of the blood due to the presence of waste products that are normally removed by the kidneys and excreted in urine. In chronic uremia, an abnormally large volume of urine may be produced at one stage; acute uremia is often marked by a decrease in the volume of urine. As the level of toxic substances increases, further symptoms appear. These include anxiety, restlessness, headache, nausea, vomiting, generalized itching, muscular cramps, shortness of breath and drowsiness. The breath may smell like urine.
Uremia is not always caused by Kidney Disease. Anything that interferes temporarily with kidney function can cause acute uremia. The long list of possible causes includes burns, a blow on the kidney, kidney stones, adverse reactions to sulfonamide drugs, and congestive heart failure.
In treating acute uremia, the first step is to give the standard treatment for the cause. For example, if the cause is Shock, measures are taken to restore normal circulation. The uremia itself can be relieved by circulating the patient’s blood through an artificial kidney machine, which purifies the blood and returns it to the system.
Another method of relieving uremia is called peritoneal dialysis. Special fluid is injected into the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity and allowed to remain there for a time. It is then removed, taking with it some of the body’s toxic materials.
In treating severe kidney disease, an artificial kidney machine may be used, which takes over some of the functions of temporarily or permanently damaged kidney in a process called dialysis.
Kidney machines are usually very expensive, quite large pieces of apparatus requiring expert attention while in use. Such machines are usually limited to large hospital and a few special centers, but progress has been made in building units that can be used in the home.
Despite ads for patent medicines, kidneys do not need to be flushed or stimulated. To help your kidneys regulate the body’s supply of fluids, simply drink the amount of liquids your thirst dictates. Less than a liter a day is too little. Go easy on coffee because caffeine acts as a diuretic, a substance that stimulates the kidneys to excrete more liquids than they ordinarily would.
Controlling your coffee intake will help the kidneys to function more naturally, remember that a urine test should be part of your regular checkup.
Other things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy are:
Keep active and fit
Muscular activity is essential to health. People confined to bed or astronauts in a space capsule rapidly deteriorate unless they are given some exercise. When you aren’t active, your muscles, blood circulation becomes sluggish and the kidneys stop functioning well. So stay active by taking walks, doing sports and engage in hobbies that gets you moving around
Control your blood sugar
Sugar, in the form of glucose, is required for the generation of energy in the body. In addition to the sugar (glucose) in the blood, there is a reserve supply in the liver in the form of glycogen. If the sugar in the blood is too low, it leads to a condition called hypoglycemia which is harmful to the kidneys. Similarly, if the blood sugar is too high, a condition called hyperglycemia occurs which is also detrimental to the kidneys. Things you can do to control your blood sugar are don’t overeat, eat adequate amounts of carbohydrate and take your insulin if you are diabetic.
Monitor blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is a hidden illness and is often the direct cause of kidney failures. Yet hypertension produces few symptoms by itself and is usually discovered when the blood pressure is taken during a routine health checkup. You can use this chart to discover what your ideal blood pressure should be. Some things you can do to maintain good blood pressure are reducing salt in your diet, reduce stress and nervous tension, eliminate alcohol consumption and bring your body weight down to normal.
Eat a healthy diet
Consuming moisture-rich foods like watermelon, oranges, cucumber on a regular basis reduces the incidence of kidney stones. Also eat food rich in magnesium because magnesium is needed for new cell formation and activating B vitamins which promotes kidney health. Some examples of magnesium-rich foods are avocados, bananas, dark chocolate etc. Also, add dandelion greens and parsley to your diet because they have a diuretic effect on kidneys, it helps the kidneys flush out body toxins.
Watch your weight
By definition, an obese or overweight person weighs 30% or more than his ideal weight. Being overweight causes several health challenges and one of them is an overworked circulatory system which damages the kidney. To get to your ideal weight will require you to strike a balance between the amount and kinds of food you eat and the amount of energy you expend in physical activity
Smoking affects the blood vessel’s negatively. When the blood vessels are negatively affected, blood circulation isn’t good which can lead to kidney problems.
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Sources and References
Chronic Kidney Disease by Andrew Levey and Josef Coresh
Kidney Disease and Obesity: Epidemiology, Mechanisms and Treatment by Holly Kramer, Kumar Sharma et al
Anatomy and Physiology of the Kidney by M A Wallace
Biomarkers of Acute and Chronic Kidney Disease by William Zhang and Chirag Parikh
The Current and Future Landscape of Dialysis by Raymond Vanholder, Rainish Mehrotra et al