Considering the jobs they do for us – and the threats they live under today – it’s right that we should pay special attention to our kidneys this month, and that we carry that new awareness with us throughout the year.
Tucked peacefully below our shoulder blades, our kidneys may go unnoticed for the lucky among us. The less fortunate, however, may find out something’s wrong when an important, vital process turns up undone.
The Jobs They Do
Most folks are aware that our kidneys filter waste from the blood and help us get rid of it. The scale of that job, though, might be less well-known. Our kidneys filter 200 liters of blood every day. It’s hard to think of a harder-working organ than that, except our heart. Without healthy kidneys, our very lives are in jeopardy.
In addition, our kidneys are vital to our blood and bones. They direct the production of red cells for the blood and activate vitamin D to keep our bones strong. Their role in balancing and regulating the body may be unexpected if we see our kidneys just as filters. They keep blood minerals in balance, moderate blood pressure and regulate fluid levels, too.
The Thanks They Get
Yet, one-third of all Americans are at risk for developing kidney disease; 26 million Americans already have it, and most of them don’t know it. The reason we get ambushed is our own lack of awareness. So, highlighting a month to pay attention sounds like a pretty good idea.
The Risks They Run
Diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of kidney disease – or just being 60 or older – all are risk factors for kidney disease, even kidney failure.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, and almost half of people starting dialysis were sent there by the effects of high blood sugar. Diabetes can cause the filters of the kidneys, the glomeruli, to fail.
High blood pressure, too, threatens our kidneys directly. Because the kidneys are so richly supplied with blood vessels, increased pressure on those high volumes of blood can cause weakening, narrowing, or hardening of the blood vessels supplying the kidneys. And because the capillaries that supply the kidneys themselves include some of the smallest blood vessels in the body, the extra pressure places enormous strain right where the kidneys do their job.
Obesity, too, is a contributing factor to more than one of the conditions that damage the healthy function of your kidneys. So, here we have it, three of the top threats to kidney health – diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – are on a steep rise throughout the American population.
What We Can Do
The American Kidney Fund offers an excellent summary of prevention techniques that are within the reach of all of us, including healthy eating, exercise, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, and working with your doctor.
The exercise that can be part of prevention has several specific benefits, including losing and maintaining healthy weight, helping to keep healthy blood sugar levels, improving heart and lung health, lowering blood pressure and total cholesterol, and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Pretty good menu of returns on just one aspect of your healthy lifestyle.
The National Kidney Foundation offers free kidney health checks in their KEEP Healthy program. What’s more, they recommend testing and topics to discuss with your family doctor at your annual physical exam.
Your family physician will become familiar with your specific risk factors and recommend the healthy choices that can guide your whole family. If more active prevention or treatment is called for, your family physician is in the best position possible to provide the expert care that’s called for.
Why not schedule an appointment with us at Global Family Medicine to talk about how to guard your kidneys’ vital function.? Call us at 843-815-6468.