Kidney Disease Overview

What are Kidneys?

The kidneys are a pair of organs located in the back of the abdomen. Each kidney is about 4 or 5 inches long -- about the size of a fist. The kidneys' function is to filter blood. All the blood in our bodies passes through the kidneys several times a day.

The kidneys remove wastes, control the body's fluid balance, and regulate the balance of electrolytes. As the kidneys filter blood, they create urine, which collects in the kidneys' pelvis.  The pelvis is a funnel-shaped structure that drains down tubes called ureters to the bladder. Each kidney contains around a million units called nephrons, each of which is a microscopic filter for blood.

Kidney Disease Overview

When the kidney nephrons stop functioning properly, this is known as kidney disease.  Kidney disease may occur for a number of reasons.  Risk factors include:

  • Diabetes: this is the leading cause of kidney disease. It is suspected that high blood sugars damage the blood vessels in the kidney over time. Nearly 1 in 3 people develop kidney disease if you have diabetes.
  • High blood pressure: people with high blood pressure are also at an increased risk of developing kidney disease. As many as 20% of adults with high blood pressure will have kidney disease.
  • Heart disease: People with heart disease are at high risk for kidney disease.  The relationship is not entirely understood.
  • Family history or genetics: individuals with a family history of kidney disease may be at more risk of disease. If you have family members with kidney disease, you may consider relaying this information to your doctor.

 It's possible to lose as much as 90% of kidney function without experiencing any symptoms or problems.

Testing for Kidney Disease

For people with a family history of kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, diagnosing kidney failure in the early stages can be critical. Early detection of kidney failure is possible through blood and urine tests.

  • Blood tests check creatinine levels, a waste product produced by muscles, to see how well the kidneys work.
  • Urine tests check for protein, which can indicate kidney damage.

Patients may experience the following symptoms:

  • chest pain
  • dry skin
  • itching or numbness
  • feeling tired
  • headaches
  • increased or decreased urination
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • sleep problems
  • trouble concentrating
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

If you are concerned about your kidney health or know you have chronic kidney disease (CKD) know that this does not need to change your life in a large way.  May with kidney disease can continue to work and be active.  Treatments exist if kidney function continues to decline. 

More Kidney Disease Overview Information

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