Kidney problems are common, says the NHS and the number of people with chronic kidney problems is steadily increasing. So why is that?
Is it because we're not aware of what our kidneys do and how to maintain them? If so, a day like World Kidney Day is essential for reiterating good kidney health.
Problems with your kidneys can include stones, infection, cancer and disease.
We asked Bupa's chief medical officer Dr Paul Zollinger-Read to explain what they do.
He says: “Your kidneys are vital organs that keep your blood clean and chemically balanced. You have two kidneys, located near the middle of your back, one each side of your spine, just below your rib cage. Their function is complex, and critical to keeping your alive. Every day, your kidneys process nearly 190 litres of blood to shift about two litres of waste products and extra water in the form of urine."
What causes problems with the kidneys?
"Each one of your kidneys has about one million nephrons. These tiny structures are responsible for removing waste from your system. Most kidney diseases attack these nephrons, causing them to lose their filtering function.
"Although damage to your nephrons can happen quickly, perhaps because of poisoning, many kidney diseases damage your nephrons slowly - and often without any symptoms to start with. It’s only after years of damage that symptoms start to appear."
So the message here is that although most people with kidney problems tend to be a lot older, a lot can be done in your younger years to reduce your risk of disease.
“The two most common causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. If you have a family history of kidney problems, you’re also at a high risk of kidney disease.
"Trauma, such as a direct, forceful blow to your kidneys, can also lead to kidney disease. It’s also important to be aware that some over-the-counter medicines can damage your kidneys if taken regularly for a long period of time. Therefore, if you regularly take painkillers, it’s worth taking to your doctor about any risk this could have to your kidneys."
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WHAT ARE KIDNEY STONES?
These are quite common in women and men aged 30 - 60 and are caused when waste products in the blood occasionally form crystals that collect inside the kidneys. Over time, these may build up to form a hard stone-like lump. Symptoms include:
- Intense pain in the back or side of your abdomen or occasionally in your groin, which may last for minutes or hours, with intervals inbetween when there is no pain
- Feeling restless and unable to lie still
- Nausea (feeling sick)
- Blood in your urine, which is often caused by the stone scratching the ureter
- Cloudy or smelly urine
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- A high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or over
- Feeling like you need to urinate more often, even if you do not need to
- Pain when you urinate
As with ailments that develop over a long time, with chronic kidney disease there are few symptoms in the early stages.
Having said that, Dr Zollinger-Read adds: "Symptoms can include: the need to pass urine more often or less often than what’s normal for you, feeling tired, losing your appetite, swelling in your hands and feet, darkened skin and muscle cramps. If you have any of these symptoms, see you doctor and they will be able to access your condition. Your symptoms are more than likely caused by something much less serious that can easily be treated."
When it comes to longevity and healthy kidneys, there are steps of prevention worth taking.
"Keep your blood pressure within a healthy range – make sure you get your blood pressure checked regularly, around once a year. That way, if you blood pressure creeps too high, you can take immediate steps to reduce it.
Also, keep your cholesterol levels within the healthy range. Eat a healthy diet that’s rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and cut back on salt. Limit your alcohol intake by making sure you don’t go over the recommended guidelines and keep as active as possible. Aim to do some sort of exercise each day, and make sure you hit at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
For those with underlying condition such as diabetes, managing your blood glucose levels will help to keep your kidneys healthy, but this is something you should talk to your doctor about.
KIDNEY STONE PREVENTION:
Keep hydrated: it keeps your urine diluted so that waste products have less of a chance to form crystals. Your urine should be a pale yellow.
Reduce oxalates under GP guidance: oxalates prevent calcium from being absorbed by the body, so you may need to reduce these in your diet if you are prone to kidney stones: beetroot, asparagus, chocolate, grains and certain nuts among others.
The kidneys and how they work. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases
Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), published March 2012
Keep your kidneys healthy. National Kidney Disease Educational Programme. National Institute of Health, published January 2013