Get to Know Your Kidneys

15% of American adults are estimated to have kidney disease, but 90% of them don’t know it. 

Kidneys filter your blood — about 200 quarts each, every day. Small blood vessels called the glomerulus allow water, waste, and small particles to pass into the tubule. Nutrition from the filtered blood is absorbed by the body and what is left is excreted as urine.

Blood cells, proteins, and other larger particles stay behind in your blood.

Your kidneys work together with your heart; the health of one of these organs can affect the health of the other.

There are quite a few conditions that can affect your kidneys, including kidney stones, injuries from car or sports accidents, and genetic conditions.

The most common kidney problem is chronic kidney disease, or CKD.

Chronic kidney disease

Kidney disease, most often caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, is a condition in which kidneys gradually stop filtering wastes. There are often no symptoms in the early stages, and diagnosis requires a blood test. The blood test measures the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) — how well your kidneys are filtering your blood.

There are five stages of kidney disease. The GFR defines the stages:

  • Stage 1: GFR is 90 or above. There may be kidney damage, but the GFR is normal.
  • Stage 2: 60-89; kidney damage with mild loss of filtration
  • Stage 3:
    • a. 45-59, moderate loss of kidney function
    • b. 30-44, moderate decrease in kidney function
  • Stage 4: 15-29, severe decrease in kidney function
  • Stage 5: GFR is below 15; kidney failure

People may live at one of these stages for many years. 

Managing Chronic Kidney Disease

CKD has no cure, but it can be managed. With proper care, people with CKD may be able to keep their kidney disease from getting worse, and can live for many years with their CKD.

Eating right is very important for people with CKD, but there is no one diet that is right for all CKD patients. The specifics depend on your weight, how well your kidneys function, whether you have diabetes, and other factors. Talk with your doctor, and consider making an appointment with a dietician. Working with a dietician can help you learn more about nutrition and what you need to do to make changes in your diet. The dietician will help you personalize a plan that works for you. If you want to be successful, having the support of a dietician can make all the difference in your success. 

It can be hard to make changes in your diet, but it’s very important to follow your doctor’s recommendations when you have CKD.

CKD can be caused by high blood pressure, but it can also cause high blood pressure. Controlling your blood pressure is one of the most important steps to manage CKD.

Exercise 30 minutes most days of the week. If that sounds like a lot, get started with 50 or 10 minutes and work your way up. Exercise will help control blood sugar, blood fats (like cholesterol), and blood pressure, and build or maintain muscle mass — all important things for managing CKD. It can also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight.

Smoking can make kidney disease worse, and it contributes to heart disease and stroke in people with CKD. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about how to stop.

Excessive alcohol can also damage your kidneys. What’s excessive? Check with your doctor, because the answer can vary from one person to another.

Take care of your kidneys

Your kidneys are important, so take good care of them. Basic good health habits are important:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Don’t drink to excess.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat right.

You should also establish a relationship with a primary care physician and get regular checkups.