The kidneys are vital organs of the human body; they are also referred to as the “great sieves of the body” and they help in the detoxification process by removing waste products from the blood.

They are two bean shaped organs found on the left and right sides of the body; they are about 11 centimeters (that is 4.3 inch) in length. Each kidney is attached to a ureter; the kidneys pass urine through the ureter into the bladder for elimination. They are involved directly in the formation of urine.

Each adult kidney contains approximately one million nephrons or tiny filters; the nephron is the structural and functional unit of a kidney, it is involved in the filtration, reabsorption, secretion and excretion of toxins.

These vital organs play vital roles in the control of various body fluid compartments, fluid osmolality, acid-base balance, concentration of various electrolytes and removal of toxins.

They also reabsorb solute free water, sodium, bicarbonate, glucose and amino acids from waste products back into the body; they also secrete hydrogen, ammonium, potassium and uric acid. They also convert a precursor of vitamin D to its active form Calcitriol and they help in the synthesis of the hormones erythropoietin and renin.

As earlier stated, the kidneys are two but it is possible to survive on one; kidney transplant surgeries are done to help those with kidney problems live longer.

The kidneys are vital organs and they perform vital functions in the body; they encounter toxins almost every time because of their role in the detoxification process of the body and this makes them susceptible to various problems.

When these organs are affected or diseased; it can result to a lot of health problems because all of the vital functions they carry out in the body will be affected and this can even lead to death if it is not treated or cannot be treated.

The best ways to take care of the kidneys is to prevent the kidneys from having problems and this can be done by avoiding the risk factors for kidney diseases and then engage in healthy living.

According to the National Kidney Foundation; more than 30 million American adults are living with kidney disease and most of them don’t know it because kidney disease don’t show any symptom until the last stage when the kidneys have failed or when there are large amount of proteins in the urine. Getting tested is the sure way to know if you have kidney disease.

Causes of kidney problems

There are some factors that can lead to kidney problems and the common ones are:

  • Malnutrition: Malnutrition is the most common cause of mortality in the world and it also has a negative impact on the kidneys; a study stated that malnutrition is common in patients with chronic renal failure, regular intake of processed and unnatural foods can lead to kidney problems, and eating disorders like anorexia can also cause malnutrition.
  • Obstruction of blood flow to the kidney: A sudden stop of blood supply to the kidneys can lead to kidney problems and even prompt kidney failure, a heart attack, heart disease, hepatitis, dehydration, severe burn, allergic reaction and a severe infection like sepsis can cause this. Medications used in treating inflammation and hypertension can also cause this as a side effect.
  • Problems eliminating urine: When the body is unable to expel toxins through the urine; it can lead to buildup and accumulation of toxins in the kidneys and this will surely cause problems for these organs. Some cancers like colon, bladder and prostate cancers can block the urinary passageways. Other medical conditions that can cause obstructions in the urinary passageways are kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, blood clots within the urinary tract and damage to the nerves that control the bladder.
  • Smoking and drinking: Smoking raises the risk of CKD and accelerates the occurrence; excessive drinking and smoking can lead to high blood pressure which is one of the main causes of kidney disease. Smoking leads to potentially dangerous changes in the functions of the kidneys in healthy people and it raises the risk of diabetes which is also a main risk factor in kidney disease. Excess intake of alcohol raises the blood pressure above normal and this can result in kidney disease.
  • Certain antibiotics and other medications: This is way self-prescription and indiscriminate use of antibiotics and other drugs are discouraged because they can affect the functions of the kidneys and lead to kidney problems. Antibiotics can make crystals that are difficult to break down and this can affect the flow of urine; other antibiotics have dangerous chemicals that destroy the cells of the kidneys when they try to filter them out of the bloodstream.

Some of these antibiotics trigger an allergic reaction that affects the kidneys. Diuretics cause dehydration is which bad for the kidneys; excessive use of pain killers is responsible for 50% of chronic kidney disease failure every year, proton pump inhibitors used to treat heartburn, ulcers and acid reflux raise the chances of serious kidney problems and some supplements too like wormwood oil and Creatine are not good for the kidneys.

Illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and ecstasy can cause high blood pressure and damage the kidneys.

  • Dyes used in some imaging tests: Contrast dyes used in imaging tests can be harmful to people who have kidney disease; these dyes injures the kidneys by narrowing the blood vessels of the kidneys and damaging the structures inside the kidneys. Not all imaging tests make use of contrast dyes. A study suggested that baking soda can prevent kidney damage from the use of this dye; another study suggests the use of N-acetylcystenine to prevent kidney damage after undergoing imaging tests with the use of contrast dyes.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes: Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure in the US; high amount of sugar in the blood can damage millions of tiny filtering units within each kidneys and this impairs the ability of the kidneys to filter the blood properly and eventually leads to kidney failure. It also leads to the presence of protein (albumin) in the urine.
  • Uncontrolled hypertension: High blood pressure makes the arteries around the kidneys to get weak, hardened and narrowed; this makes it hard for the kidneys to get quality supply of blood, it also impairs the ability of the kidneys to detoxify the body and function properly.

Common kidney conditions

Acute kidney failure: This is a medical condition that occurs when the kidneys have lost their abilities to function properly; infection, blood clotting disorders, dehydration, pregnancy complications, urinary tract infection, autoimmune kidney disorder and decreases flow of blood to the kidneys caused by low blood pressure can cause this condition.

Diabetic nephropathy: This condition is caused by high levels of sugar in the blood which can cause damage to the kidneys and cause loss of proteins through the urine.

Glomerulonephritis: This is usually caused by an overactive immune system; the immune system attacks the kidneys and this leads to inflammation and some damages. This leads to the presence of blood and protein in the urine and it can lead to kidney failure.

Hypertensive nephropathy: High blood pressure can cause kidney damage and chronic renal failure.

Chronic kidney disease: Also known as chronic kidney failure occurs when the kidneys slowly stop functioning. Hypertension, type I and II diabetes, inflammation in various parts of the kidneys and obstructions in the urinary tract can cause this. To know more about this condition click here.

Interstitial nephritis: This condition is characterized by inflammation of the connective tissues inside the kidneys; this leads to acute renal failure and side effects of medications and allergic reactions are the usual causes of this reaction.

Nephrotic syndrome: This condition cause large amount of protein to be in urine because of the damages done to the kidneys; edema (swollen legs) is a symptom of this kidney problem.

Renal cysts: This is a hollowed-out space in the kidney; isolated kidney cysts can be caused by aging but they are rarely dangerous but complex cysts and masses can be cancerous.

Cancer of the kidneys: This is the 7th most common type of cancer; renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, it is mostly caused by smoking and it accounted for 14,080 deaths in 2015 in the United States alone.

Nephrotic diabetes insipidus: In this condition; the kidneys loses their abilities to concentrate urine, this can be caused by the reaction of the body to a drug it is not dangerous but it causes constant thirst and frequent urination.

Polycystic kidney disease: This is a genetic condition that is characterized by large cysts in both kidneys; this hinders the work and functions of the kidneys.

Kidney stones: These stones are made from hardened minerals and acid salts that collects in the kidneys; they are formed by concentrated urine and it is usually caused by dehydration. The minerals in concentrated urine crystalize and stick together; these stones are very painful and can obstruct the flow of urine sometimes.

End stage renal disease: This condition is characterized by complete loss of kidney strength; this can be due to progressive kidney disease and people affected by this depend on dialysis for survival.  

Pyelonephritis: This is a medical condition characterized by infection of the kidneys, it is usually accompanied by back pain and fever; it is a bacterial infection, the bacteria enter the urethra and ascend into the bladder and from there go straight to the kidneys. Untreated infections of the kidneys can lead to permanent kidney damage.

Papillary necrosis: This is a condition characterized by severe damage to the kidneys; this can cause chunks of kidney tissues to break off internally and clog the kidneys, this can lead to total kidney failure if left untreated.

Symptoms of kidney diseases

The symptoms vary and it depends on the specific type of kidney disease but there are some common symptoms that are noticed in kidney problems and they include:

  • Feeling tired all the time because the kidneys are unable to make erythropoietin which is a hormone that signals the body to make red blood cells that carry oxygen round the body. When this hormone is low or unavailable; fewer red blood cells are present to transport oxygen all through the body, this makes the brain and muscles to get tired quickly and it can even lead to anemia.
  • Difficulty sleeping can be caused by accumulation of toxins since the kidneys are no longer able to detoxify the body.
  • Feeling cold when others are warm due to anemia.
  • Persistent puffiness around the eyes can be caused by high amount of protein in the urine. The presence of proteins in the urine is a sign that the kidney filters have been damaged. When the body can’t get enough protein due to it being lost in the urine; it leads to puffiness around the eyes.
  • Shortness of breath after very little efforts; this can be caused by accumulation of fluid in the lungs and anemia.
  • Muscle cramps are also experienced due to electrolyte imbalance; the kidneys help in maintaining the proper levels of electrolytes in the body and when they are unable to do so due to impaired function or failure, the electrolytes are lost through the urine and this leads to muscle cramping.
  • Feeling faint, dizzy and weak caused by lack of lack of oxygen to the brain.
  • Inability to think clearly; can be caused by anemia because in this condition the brain does not get enough oxygen. It can also lead to memory problems and difficulty concentrating.
  • Feeling very itchy; this is caused by accumulation of waste products. The kidneys are the main detoxifying organs of the body, when the kidneys fail, waste in the buildup and accumulate in the blood and this can cause severe itching.
  • Swelling in the hands and feet; the kidneys help in removing extra fluid from the body and when they are unable to carry out this function, fluids accumulate in the body causing swellings in the ankles, feet and hands.
  • Swollen or puffy face; water retention caused by the inability of the kidneys to remove extra fluid can lead to swelling in the face.
  • Impaired taste of food; food tastes like metal in patients with kidney disease or failure and this is due to uremia (accumulation of wastes in the blood). Uremia makes food tastes different and can even cause bad breath; this make them to stop eating meat or they lose weight because they don’t feel like eating.
  • Ammonia breath; uremia which is a buildup of waste in the blood can cause this and bad breath.
  • Upset stomach, nausea and vomiting; this can be caused by uremia; it can lead to these disturbances and even loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Getting up during the night to urinate; kidneys are the sole manufactures of urine in the body and when they are failing, the production of urine also changes. Kidney disease patients can urinate more often or in greater amounts than usual and the urine is pale in colour, they may even feel pressure or have difficulty urinating.
  • Foamy or bubbly urine; when the functions of the kidneys are affected, the production of urine is also affected; the urine formed may be foamy or bubbly and this can also lead to a high amount of protein in the urine.
  • Brown, red or purple urine; less urine is produced as the functions of the kidneys are impaired and this can lead to dark coloured urine or urine that contains blood.
  • Pressure when urinating; it can also lead to difficulty urinating.

How to take care of the kidneys and prevent kidney diseases and failure

Taking care of the kidneys is the best way to prevent kidney diseases and cancer; it cuts the risk of even developing medical conditions like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure that are risk factors for this kidney diseases.

Proper care for the kidneys will even keep them healthy till old age; below are some effective ways to take care of your kidneys.

Hydration: Quality hydration helps the kidney to function properly, flush out wastes and toxins from the body; it also prevents kidney stones and helps prevent lots of metabolic problems. Not taking enough water will lead to dehydration; dehydration leads to kidney failure, seizures and even death.

Don’t wait till you are thirsty before drinking water, drink clean water regularly, eat foods, fruits and vegetables with high water content, limit your consumption of alcohol or stop taking it totally and also avoid soda and other caffeinated drinks.

Quality nutrition: Healthy eating is mandatory for the kidneys to function well; eat lots of healthy whole foods, fruits, vegetables and herbs. These will supply the kidneys with vital nutrients and vitamins that they need for optimal function and health.

Folate reduces the levels of homocysteine which leads to kidney disease; vitamin A promotes healthy functions of the kidneys.

Avoid supplements, they cause problems, all your vitamins and minerals should come from natural foods except in critical health conditions or when prescribed by a physician to treat a disease or a deficiency. Too much vitamin C and calcium by supplements cause kidney stones.

Control your blood pressure: High blood pressure contributes to kidney disease; keeping your blood pressure in check and controlling it will contribute to long-term good kidney health. A study proved that high blood pressure leads to kidney disease and kidney failure.

Control your blood sugar: As seen already; diabetes is a leading cause of kidney problems, so regulating your sugar intake will help prevent kidney problems.

Avoid diets high in fats and salts: These can affect the functions of the kidneys.

Avoid alcohol and smoking: These two unhealthy habits can raise the risk of diabetes and hypertension which are the main causes of kidney problems.

Regular exercise: This will boosts immune function and prevent obesity which is a risk factor for kidney disease.

How is kidney failure diagnosed?

There are several tests that are carried out to determine how well the kidneys are functioning and to diagnose kidney failure; these tests include:

  • Urinalysis: This test involves taking a urine sample from the patent to check for abnormalities like the presence of protein or sugar in the urine. A urinary sedimentation examination can be carried out to measure the amount of red and white blood cells; this test also checks for high levels of bacteria and it also search for high numbers of cellular casts.
  • Urine volume measurement: This is one of the simplest tests carried out to diagnose kidney failure; it involves measuring the output of urine; a low urinary output may suggest kidney disease due to a urinary blockage or multiple illnesses and injuries.
  • Blood test: Blood samples are gotten from the patient to measure the substances that are filtered by the kidneys like creatinine and blood urea nitrogen; a rapid rise in any of these may indicate acute kidney failure.
  • Kidney tissue sample: This is also called a kidney biopsy; a doctor collects sample of the kidney tissues by inserting a biopsy needle through the skin and down into the kidney. X-ray or ultrasound equipment is used to guide the needle and locate the kidneys; an anesthetic is used to eliminate pain and discomfort.
  • Imaging: This test involves the use of ultrasounds, MRIs and CT Scans to provide images of the kidney and the urinary tract; from the images provided, your doctor can look for blockages or abnormalities in the kidneys.

Treatments for kidney failure

Dialysis: This involves the use of a machine to filter and purify the blood; the patient is connected to a large machine or a portable catheter bag depending on the type of dialysis.

The patient is also advised to follow a low-potassium and a low salt diet along with dialysis. This treatment does not cure kidney failure; it only extends the life of the patient when regular scheduled treatment is carried out.

Kidney transplant: This test involves looking for a donour whose kidney is compatible with the patient’s; if this is carried out, the kidney will work perfectly and dialysis is not required anymore.

Immunosuppressive drug are also taken after the surgery to prevent the body from rejecting the organ and this can have side effects which can be serious at times and in some cases kidney transplant surgery is not always successful.