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Kidney disease affects roughly 15% of the adult population in the United States - that’s around 37 million people. But unlike other conditions, kidney disease is largely unrecognized.

That’s why during National Kidney Month, we look to shed light on kidney disease and educate ourselves about the importance of kidney health.

Kidney disease is a leading cause of death in America. This makes education and awareness of kidney disease crucial for our health and the health of future generations. 

What do kidneys do?

The human body is made up of several organs that all play a role in the healthy function of our body.

As one of these organs, our kidneys work to remove extra fluid and waste from our bodies. They also remove acid, and they work to maintain a healthy balance of minerals, salts, and water.

They even make hormones that:

  • Help make red blood cells
  • Control blood pressure
  • Keep bones healthy and strong

But, how do they work?

Most simply, the kidneys act as a filter.

They’re made up of a million tiny units called nephrons

Each nephron contains a filter called the glomerulus and a tubule

While the glomerulus filters your blood, the tubule returns needed substances into your blood and removes the waste, sending it to the bladder to be removed from the body through urine.

Risk factors and symptoms of kidney disease

Understanding risk factors, as well as symptoms, can help with the early detection of kidney disease.

This can help prevent kidney disease from developing more and leading to kidney failure. 

High blood pressure and diabetes are the leading causes of kidney disease. In 76% of cases of kidney failure between 2015-2017, both hypertension and diabetes were the primary diagnoses.

There are other health factors and lifestyle choices that can also increase your risk for kidney disease. Some of which include

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Older age
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Abnormal kidney structure
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Regular use of medication that can cause damage to the kidneys

Because our kidneys play such an integral role in the functions of our body - kidney disease can lead to many complications. 

Some of these include fluid retention, the rise of potassium levels in your blood, and even a decreased immune response. 

You can find a more extensive list of complications from kidney disease from the Mayo Clinic here.

Symptoms of kidney disease might include:

  • Poor appetite 
  • Poor sleeping
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Muscle cramping at night
  • The need to urinate more often than usual
  • Puffiness around your eyes (in the morning especially) 

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or suspect you might have kidney disease, talk with your medical provider as soon as possible.

How you can help keep your kidneys healthy

We’ve talked about the importance of your kidneys and what they do as well as risk factors and symptoms you should look out for.

But, what can you do to keep them healthier? 

Hydrate - water assists your kidneys in removing waste from your blood. It also helps keep your blood vessels open so blood can flow freely with essential nutrients for your kidneys. 

Quit smoking - blood flow is slowed down by smoking - this results in a decrease in blood flow to organs like your kidneys. It can also cause higher blood pressure.

Regular exercise - exercising regularly can help you stay at a healthy weight. This prevents obesity, and exercising can improve your blood pressure and insulin resistance. All these factors can help prevent chronic kidney disease.

Eat a healthy diet - eating a well-balanced diet can lower your risk for kidney disease. Focus on foods that are healthy for your heart and body. Try to eat vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Cutting back on salt and added sugars can also help.

Avoid over-the-counter medications - taking certain over-the-counter medications for long periods of time can increase your risk for kidney disease. Be sure to talk to your care team about any medications you take regularly.

Be cautious with herbal remedies and supplements - too much of certain herbal remedies or vitamins could be harmful to your kidneys. It’s best practice to consult with your medical provider before you decide to start any new supplements.

National Kidney Month - Conclusion

Our kidneys play a vital role in the healthy function of our body. Acting as a filter and working to remove waste and acid from our body while also working to maintain healthy levels of minerals, salts, and water.

Like with most conditions, early diagnosis of kidney disease leads to better outcomes. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of kidney disease.

If you’re concerned - talk to your medical provider about kidney disease or any of the factors that might cause it.

And spread the word. Share this article with a loved one, and speak up to your friends about the importance of National Kidney Month!

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