Many parts of the body come in pairs. You have two eyes, ears, arms, legs, feet and ovaries or testicles. You also have two kidneys that are each about the size of a closed fist. These bean-shaped organs are located on either side of the spine near the middle of the back, just below the ribcage. Kidneys are like the body’s treatment plant, processing about 200 quarts of blood each day and removing approximately two quarts of waste products and extra water that become urine. Keeping your kidneys healthy is very important to overall health. If your kidneys do not function properly, wastes can build up in the blood and eventually damage the body.
People at risk for kidney disease, including those with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or a first degree relative with kidney failure, need to take special precautions to keep their kidneys healthy. Small declines in kidney function may be overlooked because they do not cause any symptoms. In fact, you may lose as much as 30 to 40 percent of kidney function without noticing. Some people are able to lead normal, healthy lives even though they may have been born with only one kidney. But serious health problems can develop if kidney function drops below 25 percent and renal replacement therapy, such as dialysis or transplantation, is necessary when function drops below 10 or 15 percent.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common causes of kidney disease. Diabetes is a disease that prevents the body from properly processing glucose, which is a form of sugar. Glucose can act like poison if it stays in the blood instead of being broken down. Small blood vessels in the kidneys can be damaged by high blood pressure and prevent the proper filtration of waste from blood. People with these conditions can take steps to keep their kidneys healthy.
Diabetics need to have their blood and urine checked for signs of kidney disease on a regular basis. They also should try to keep blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg, maintain normal cholesterol levels and aim for blood glucose targets. Medications should be taken as prescribed. A healthy diet with limited salt intake and regular physical activity also are important. People with high blood pressure or heart disease can follow many of these same steps, maintain a healthy weight and limit amounts of alcohol and caffeine. Their diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat dairy foods.
While chronic kidney disease cannot be cured, the progression of the disease can be slowed and managed so people with the condition can make their kidneys last longer. They should see their doctor regularly, control high blood pressure and diabetes, follow a low-protein diet, not smoke, take medications as prescribed and maintain normal cholesterol levels.
For more information about keeping your kidneys healthy, talk with your doctor or visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Web site at www.kidney.niddk.nih.gov.
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