Kidney problems – you probably don’t think much about them. In general, the heart and brain get more attention. But your kidneys are the all-important filtering system for your entire body. We asked Adam W. Safdi, MD, Renown Health Nephrologist about these unsung organs. He shares tips below on how to keep them healthy and warning signs of kidney damage.
Granted these fist-sized, bean-shaped organs located along your spine are not flashy. However without them our muscles and nerves would struggle to work.
What Do My Kidneys Do Exactly?
Your kidneys are tiny work horses under your skin. For instance, each kidney is made up of many nephrons (filtering units). Therefore they filter about 200 quarts of blood a day. By removing extra fluid, waste and acid, your body maintains a healthy mineral balance. In fact, your kidneys also make hormones to help:
- Control blood pressure
- Make red blood cells
- Keep bones strong
What is Kidney Disease?
According to the National Kidney Foundation, chronic kidney disease (CKD) happens over time. Specifically your kidneys aren’t able to filter the waste from your bloodstream, so it builds up.
- High blood pressure
- Low iron (anemia)
- Weak bones
- Nerve damage
For example, two main causes of kidney disease are high blood sugar (diabetes) and high blood pressure (hypertension). Notably African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and American Indians are at increased risk of CKD. Also, if a family member has kidney disease or you are over age 60, your risk of CKD is greater.
According to the American Kidney Fund, kidney disease is the 9TH leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 31 million people in the United States (10% of the adult population) have chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Surprisingly, 9 out of 10 people do not know they have stage 3 CKD (moderately decreased kidney function).
While CKD is more common among women, men with CKD are 50% more likely to have it turn into kidney failure.
Signs of Kidney Problems
Not everyone will have severe kidney disease symptoms. Certainly the signs of CKD can seem to be unassuming or just age related.
To summarize you may have:
- Less energy or feel tired
- Muscle cramps at night
- Puffy eyes in the morning
- Difficulty sleeping
- A need to urinate more, often at night
- Poor appetite
Related: How to Sleep Smarter
5 Ways To Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
Control Your Blood Sugar.
Having high blood sugar can damage your kidneys. A yearly A1C blood sugar test is recommended to get an accurate measure of your blood sugar level.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure.
When you think of high blood pressure a heart attack or stroke may come to mind. Surprisingly, high blood pressure is also the second most common cause of kidney damage.
Your kidneys filter harmful substances from your blood, including alcohol.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, alcohol causes changes in kidney function, making it harder to filter blood. In addition, it affects your kidneys ability to regulate the water in your body. This leads to kidney problems.
Alcohol dehydrates (dries out) your body. As a result it affects the normal cell function of all organs, including your kidneys. Extra alcohol also affects your blood pressure. And medications for high blood pressure can be affected by alcohol. Regardless, high blood pressure is a common cause of kidney disease. More than two drinks* a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure.
*A drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one (5 ounce) glass of wine, or one shot (1.5 ounces) of “hard liquor.”
Watch Drugstore Pills.
Avoid taking over-the-counter pain relievers on a regular basis. “Specifically common drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can cause kidney damage and disease if taken too often,” states Dr. Safdi. For pain, stick with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Also, if you are dealing with chronic pain, such as arthritis or back pain, work with your doctor. Together you can find alternative pain solutions without risking your kidney health.
Exercise and Don’t Smoke.
A healthy lifestyle benefits your kidneys. Furthermore including 30 minutes of daily exercise, such as walking benefits your entire body. Additionally quitting tobacco will increase blood flow to your kidneys and other organs.
Tests for Kidney Problems
Even though kidney disease can remain hidden until it is advanced, a simple urine or blood test can detect it. Remember, it’s important to get a yearly test. To clarify, early detection and treatment can slow or prevent the progression of kidney disease.
“Your primary care doctor can order these screening kidney disease tests and can refer you to a kidney specialist if they are abnormal,” says Dr. Safdi.