Our hearts, lungs, muscles and even brains get a lot of attention when it comes to optimal health. But when picturing a well-functioning body, do your kidneys come to mind? It turns out, these frequently overlooked organs are vital for human life.

As part of National Kidney Month, we’re highlighting kidneys, and how we can all take better care of them. 

What Do Your Kidneys Do? 

These “bean-shaped” organs help your body turn waste into urine, and filter other toxins from your blood. Most people are born with two kidneys, which sit on either side of your spine just under your lower ribs. 

More than anything else, kidneys work to maintain the fluid balance in your body. They’re why you urinate the amount you do, and how you keep enough clean blood circulating. These organs are also experts in sensing what’s supposed to be in your body and what isn’t, and continually work to remove anything from food, drugs or other toxic substances that your body doesn’t need.

Kidneys also regulate how much water you’re retaining and balance the levels of essential minerals like sodium and potassium in your blood. Because of the important role they play in hydration, purification, and nutrient balance, well-functioning kidneys also help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. 

What Are the Dangers and Symptoms of Kidney Disease? 

One challenge of kidney disease is that negative symptoms often go unnoticed until kidney disease has progressed. Annual checkups can help monitor your overall health in many categories that may indicate kidney disease. But visit a doctor sooner if you are experiencing these symptoms, particularly in combination with each other: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • An iron taste in your mouth
  • Unexplained loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of strength
  • Trouble thinking
  • Trouble sleeping

High blood pressure or diabetes contribute to 76% of kidney failure cases. Cardiovascular or immune diseases (such as lupus), and other autoimmune diseases can also cause kidneys to lose proper blood circulation, leading to kidney disease. Obesity, a family history of kidney disease, an abnormal kidney structure, or frequent usage of kidney-damaging medications can also put you at a higher risk. 

When your kidney is damaged by injury or any of the above conditions, a urine block (often due to kidney stones or an enlarged prostate) may also occur. If your kidneys are unable to function properly for a period longer than three months, your kidney disease will then be considered chronic. 

At least one properly functioning kidney is important, because without it, toxic waste can build up in your body. As a result, poor kidney health may also lead to heart disease, stroke, anemia, diminished bone strength, and nerve damage. 

Left untreated, kidney failure can be life-threatening. Though there isn’t a current cure, kidney disease can often be treated with prescription medicine alongside lifestyle changes to improve your kidney health. Reducing how much salt you consume, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and increasing your amount of exercise are all changes your doctor may recommend. If you are diagnosed with kidney failure, your doctor may recommend dialysis or even a kidney transplant.

How Can I Take Care of My Kidneys?

Kidney health can be maintained by many of the same things that benefit your heart health, too. Try to maintain a blood pressure below 140/90, and stay within your recommended amount of cholesterol. Limiting the amount of sodium you consume, eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and exercising at least 150 minutes a week are also beneficial.

Your annual physical exam also provides an opportunity to monitor your kidneys with a urine or blood test. This allows kidney disease to be diagnosed early, and therefore treated more effectively. 

If you’re concerned about kidney disease or would like help in taking care of your kidneys along with the rest of your body, the caring team at YourTown Health is here for you. Find your nearest office by visiting our locations page or contact us online for personalized assistance.