The kidneys are a pair of organs located on either side of your spine, just above your waist. These organs are four to five inches long, and their function is to filter impurities from the blood, balance electrolytes in your body, and control blood pressure.
The waste products that the kidneys filter from the blood are then excreted through the urine. The two main waste products are urea and sodium. Urea is a waste product of protein metabolism, and constitutes about half of the waste products present in the urine. Sodium is an essential mineral that you get from your diet, and excess amounts are excreted. Other waste products include ammonia, uric acid, oxalate, and various minerals.
Electrolytes are necessary to the body. These are minerals that let cells carry electrical impulses to other cells; for example, in nerve and muscle tissue. The kidneys maintain the right balance of electrolytes so that these tissues can function properly.
The blood pressure in your body depends on many factors. However, the kidneys are able to influence it by causing blood vessels to constrict and increasing the amount of blood circulating.
What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?
There are about one million filters, or nephrons, in each of your kidneys. Damaged nephrons stop doing their job. When enough nephrons have been damaged, your kidneys can’t filter your blood well enough for you to stay healthy.
When your kidneys haven’t been functioning properly for more than three months, you have chronic kidney disease. This is a serious condition, due to the lack of symptoms in earlier stages as well as the serious complications. Chronic kidney disease is a medical problem that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, especially considering that kidney damage often can’t be repaired.
The most common causes are diabetes (both types) and high blood pressure. Immune system conditions are another common culprit, such as lupus and AIDS. Other possible causes include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, recurrent urinary tract infections, and kidney damage caused by drug abuse.
Chronic kidney disease can cause serious complications, including but not limited to:
- Fluid retention, which can lead to other complications such as swelling, high blood pressure, and pulmonary edema.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- This can also lead to heart problems and pregnancy complications.
- Damage to the central nervous system, which can have unpredictable side effects such as intellectual difficulties, seizures, and personality changes.
- Pericarditis, which occurs when the membrane surrounding your heart becomes inflamed.
- Pregnancy complications, placing both the mother and fetus at risk.
- Hyperkalemia, or a sudden rise in blood potassium levels, which can be life-threatening.
- Decreased libido.
- Compromised immune system.
- Irreversible kidney damaging, requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant.
10 Signs You Should See a Doctor
- Loss of appetite. However, a huge variety of illnesses can result in loss of appetite, from mild to serious diseases, including mental health issues such as depression. Rule out all other possible causes if you experience loss of appetite.
- Decreased urine volume. This can also be caused by simple dehydration. If you’re drinking plenty of water but still aren’t urinating much, this is likely a sign of a kidney condition or other problem.
- Pale skin. Being more pale than normal, if you also experience other symptoms, can point to chronic kidney disease.
Continued on the Next Page…
10 Signs You Should See a Doctor Pt.2
- High blood pressure. If you’re at a healthy weight, have a balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and aren’t particularly stressed, yet you still have high blood pressure, it may be a sign.
- Muscle cramps. Especially leg cramps. Although everyone experiences muscle cramps at some time in their life, if you experience them frequently with no obvious cause, talk to your doctor.
- Swelling of the eyelids and ankles in particular are symptoms of a kidney condition. Rule out lack of sleep causing eyelid puffiness.
Continued on the Next Page…
10 Signs You Should See a Doctor Pt.3
- Chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is one of the more severe and worrying symptoms of chronic kidney disease. Many serious conditions have chronic fatigue as a symptom, so it should not be ignored.
- Nausea and vomiting. Though many less severe conditions, such as acute food poisoning, may cause nausea and vomiting, if it occurs on a regular basis with no obvious cause, you should talk to your doctor.
Continued on the Next Page…
10 Signs You Should See a Doctor Pt.4
- Dry, itchy skin. Skin often gets dry and itchy in the wintertime, after bathing in water that is too hot, after contact with an allergenic plant, or if you have an underlying skin condition. However, unexplainable dry and itchy skin could be a sign of chronic kidney disease.
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth, often accompanied by a urine-like odor on the breath. This uncommon symptom is a likely sign of a kidney condition or other urinary tract problem.
If you experience any of these symptoms of kidney disease, especially a combination of two or more, you should talk to your doctor. If you have chronic kidney disease and are experiencing symptoms, this means the disease has already progressed fairly far and requires immediate medical attention. You can lose up to 90% of your kidney function before you start experiencing symptoms, so address all symptoms as soon as they arise.
Other Kidney Problems to Be Aware Of
- Polycystic kidney disease: This is the most common hereditary kidney condition. Symptoms include high blood pressure, pain, bloating, bloody urine, frequent urination, kidney stones, and UTIs. The disease is caused by non-cancerous, water-filled sacs that form in the kidney. If left untreated, polycystic kidney disease causes serious complications including kidney failure, heart abnormalities, and brain aneurysms.
- Glomerulonephritis: This is the inflammation of the glomeruli, the part of the kidney that filters blood. It can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, immune problems, and conditions such as diabetes. Glomerulonephritis can be either chronic or acute, and can lead to kidney damage if left untreated. Symptoms include abnormal bloodwork, blood in the urine, a decreased amount of urine, foamy urine, high blood pressure, fatigue, and fluid retention.
- Kidney cancer: Kidney cancer is not a particularly common form of cancer, constituting less than 2% of all cancers. It’s also a somewhat less aggressive form of cancer than others; 73% of people who are diagnosed with kidney cancer are still alive 5 years later. Compare this with lung cancer, the most common form of cancer besides breast cancer; only 54.8% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive 5 years later. Symptoms of kidney cancer include bloody urine, pain a lump in the abdomen, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, chronic fever, extreme fatigue, leg swelling, and anemia.
- Kidney stones: Kidney stones are small mineral deposits that form a “stone” in the kidney. Kidney stones usually do not cause permanent damage, but passing them can be extremely painful. Symptoms include pain, abnormal urine color, nausea and vomiting, and needing to urinate more than normal. Kidney stones often aren’t caused by anything in particular, but several factors can increase your risk, including obesity, high-sodium or high-protein diets, chronic dehydration, and a family history of kidney stones.
How to Reduce Your Risk
The rate of chronic kidney disease is highest among Native Americans, Asian Americans, and most especially African Americans. Being age 65 or older greatly increases your risk, as does having a family history of kidney disease. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 Americans has some level of chronic kidney disease. Fortunately, there are many effective ways to reduce your risk for kidney problems. These include:
Manage and prevent all underlying conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
- Do not use illicit drugs. Illicit drugs administered intravenously can permanently damage your kidneys.
- Do not use NSAIDs for long periods of time, as this will also damage your kidneys.
- Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.
- See your doctor yearly for regular check-ups.