What most of us don’t know about our kidneys could fill a book. The facts are big, but somehow the facts are mostly unseen. Our kidneys filter 200 liters of blood every day. It’s hard to think of a harder-working organ than that, except our heart. Kidneys help regulate blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and production of red blood cells. Without healthy kidneys, our very lives are in jeopardy.
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. So highlighting a month to pay attention sounds like a pretty good idea.
What Puts Kidneys At Risk?
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.
And What Can We Do About It?
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, then your family physician is in the best position possible to provide the expert care that’s needed.
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.