Caring for Your Kidneys
March is National Kidney Month, an appropriate time to remember just how critical those two bean-shaped organs are to our very survival. The kidneys are the body’s “complex” filtration system, removing waste and toxins, and regulating the body’s balance of fluids and electrolytes. According to the National Kidney Foundation, every day the kidneys filter and return to the bloodstream about 200 quarts of blood. Roughly 2 quarts of fluids are excreted from the body as urine and the other 198 quarts are recovered.
When that system of cleansing breaks down due to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), that waste has nowhere to go but back into our body. This means one of two options depending on the extent of damage to the kidneys – dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Kidney disease affects approximately 14% of the adults in this country, that’s more than 30 million people! If caught early, CKD can be treated with medicines and lifestyle changes. However, because there are usually no overt signs early on indicating something is wrong, it’s important that you ask your health care provider for an annual blood test and urinalysis. This is especially important if you are at high risk.
Who is at risk
You are at risk if you have:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol levels
- cardiovascular disease
- are 60 years or older
- a family history of CKD
If you are an older aged man, you are 50% more likely to develop CKD than a woman of the same age.
African Americans are about three times more likely to develop CKD than Caucasians. Latinos are about one and a half times more likely to develop CKD than non-Latinos. People with risk factors should get tested regularly.
Your urine has valuable information
Because the onset of CKD can quietly happen over time, it is hard to know exactly when things are going wrong. But urine, the body’s waste byproduct, might offer up some early warnings if you know what to look for.
Clear urine is a good indicator that you are well hydrated and that the kidneys are functioning correctly. If your urine appears more yellow or darker in color, it might be due to dehydration. This can lead to kidney stones, as more minerals remain behind rather than being flushed out as waste. The National Kidney Foundation says, “one of the best measures you can take to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water, requiring you to urinate a lot.”
If you have a sweet smell to your urine, it could be due to the presence of sugar. When there is too much sugar in the bloodstream it causes the kidneys to work harder to remove it from the body. If you have diabetes, you need to work closely with your health care professional to monitor your condition, as diabetes is the principle cause of kidney disease. If you are not a diabetic, the presence of sugar could indicate a pre-diabetic condition.
If your urine is cloudy with a strong odor and you experience severe discomfort (burning), with “an urgent need to urinate (often with only a few drops of urine to pass)”, consult your doctor because it might be a urinary tract infection (UTI). Left un-treated it could result in kidney damage.
Some foods like asparagus and beets, as well as certain medications and supplements can change the smell and color of urine as well. Rule out any dietary or other changes that might correspond to the changes in your urine.
Experts agree, the best course of action to protect against CKD, is to have your doctor do an annual urinalysis to test for the presence of high levels of proteins, and red and white blood cells, which they say is a leading indicator of kidney problems.
Signs of kidney failure
If your kidneys have stopped functioning as they should, more obvious signs will manifest:
- swelling of your feet, hands and ankles, as well as your face due to your body’s retention of extra fluids it is not dispelling
- anemia as a result of lower levels of a hormone called erythropoietin that causes fatigue, weakness, dizziness, a loss of concentration and possible chills
Because of the waste build up in your body, you might get:
- skin rashes/itching
- nausea and vomiting
- shortness of breath due to fluid in the lungs
- a build up of urea in the blood that leaves you with a metallic taste in your mouth and ammonia breath
- severe cramping pain in the lower back that moves throughout the groin area
It is important to consult your medical professional and health care provider if you observe any changes in the way you feel or have any of the symptoms listed.
If you are on prescribed medication for kidney disease, diabetes, cholesterol management, high blood pressure or any other condition, and you need help affording your prescriptions, download a free Watertree Health Prescription Discount Card or request a card be mailed to you. It provides significant discounts on almost all recommended medications (brand and generic). Most experts agree, taking your medicines as prescribed improves overall health and wellbeing and lowers cost of health care for everyone.
Instructions and Disclaimer: The content on this website is designed for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses. Always consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your health.
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