In the body, there are two fist-sized organs called the kidneys. The kidneys are located near the middle of the back, and perform many important functions. The kidneys filter waste out of the blood, regulate the body’s levels of fluid, produce new red blood cells, and release hormones that regulate blood pressure. March is National Kidney Awareness Month, during which many organizations are bringing attention to kidney disease.
In the United States, there are 31 million people living with chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is diagnosed when there has been irreversible and progressive damage to the kidneys. The kidneys can be damaged by diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple kidney infections, and urinary tract obstruction. Certain people are at a greater risk for developing CKD. You are at greater risk if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, if you smoke, are obese, are African-American, or are 65 years or older. There are often no symptoms of CKD, or they are so trivial that they go unnoticed. When symptoms do arise, they usually indicate that the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Symptoms of advanced stage CKD can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness, or altered mental state.
When your kidneys do not properly filter blood, waste products such as creatinine and urea continue to circulate throughout the body. Creatinine and urea are products of the body’s metabolism that are normally filtered out of the blood and excreted in urine. When creatinine or urea continue to circulate throughout the body, they can damage other organs that they come in contact with. This can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, bone weakening, or damage to the central nervous system.
If you are at an increased risk for developing CKD, consider getting your kidney function tested at your next doctor’s visit. Two tests commonly used to screen for CKD are a blood test and a urine test. The blood test examines how well the kidneys are filtering waste out of the blood. The urine test checks for any protein in the urine, which would appear if the kidneys are damaged and not filtering the blood properly.
For more information about the kidneys, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease’s page. Or, for more information about National Kidney Awareness Month, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s page.