Kidneys Are Vital. How Do You Keep Them Healthy?

Have you ever given much thought to your kidneys? When you think of organs, the kidneys may take a backseat, but they do an indispensable job for you.

Your kidneys are each about the size of your fist and found near the middle of your back, just below your rib cage.

The kidneys contain about a million tiny filters called nephrons. They remove waste and extra water from your blood. What’s removed becomes urine and is eliminated from your body.

Your kidneys also produce several hormones that help control blood pressure, activate vitamin D and help your body make red blood cells.

Kidney Health

To help keep your kidneys healthy:

  • Drink the recommended amount of water every day. Your kidneys can process about 40 gallons of fluid every day. Staying hydrated helps them function well.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and a heart-healthy diet. This includes less sodium and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk for kidney disease.
  • If you have diabetes, control it. Diabetes is a risk factor for developing kidney disease.

If you have a close family member with kidney disease, you should be especially vigilant about the signs of kidney disease.

Kidney Diseases

About a third of American adults are at risk for developing kidney disease. 26 million American adults have kidney disease — most don’t know it. Kidney disease kills more people than breast or prostate cancer.

Kidney problems can result from injuries, genetic problems or medicines. Your kidneys’ function can also be damaged by cancer, cysts, infections or the development of kidney stones. 

Kidney problems can sneak up on you. Kidney disease usually doesn’t make you sick… at least until the problem is serious and likely irreversible.

Kidney disease can cause toxins and extra water to build up in your blood. And decreased hormone production can cause other medical issues.

If your kidneys fail, the treatments are:

Dialysis — You may be familiar with dialysis centers. Patients visit a center several times a week to be connected to a special machine that filters their blood to remove wastes and water. With the alternative treatment, peritoneal dialysis, the lining of the abdomen is used to filter the blood.

Kidney transplant — A transplant is the preferred treatment for kidney failure. It replaces dialysis, however, not all patients are suitable for a transplant because of health or other factors.

The kidney transplant process involves a number of steps.

Evaluation

Candidates for a kidney transplant will undergo diagnostic tests to make sure they are healthy enough and emotionally ready for the transplant. If a transplant is the best option for the individual, they will be registered with the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Transplant Preparation

A kidney can come from a recently deceased or living donor. The wait for a well-matched donor organ can take days or years.

During the waiting period, the patient’s medical team will focus on maintaining the health of the patient.

Transplant Procedure

During the surgery, the patient will have anesthesia, so no pain will be felt during the procedure. The surgeon will make an incision in the patient’s abdomen and insert the donor organ, attaching it to other organs and blood vessels. In most cases, the surgeon will leave the original kidneys in place.

Recovery

After a kidney transplant, the patient is typically in the hospital for 4 to 5 days when the donor is living. The stay is 5 to 10 days when the donor is deceased. The length of stay varies depending on kidney function. The health care professionals will watch closely for signs of infection, rejection and medication side effects. The patient may start physical therapy.

After release from the hospital, the patient will continue to be regularly monitored to ensure the recovery and long-term health remains on track.

The patient will be on anti-rejection medications for the rest of her/his life. The health care professional may periodically adjust the dosage or the medicine for optimal effectiveness.

Within a few months, the kidney transplant recipient can return to work and normal daily activities.

How long the transplanted kidney continues to function can differ between patients. The key for the patient is to follow all recommendations of the health care professionals, eat a healthy, balanced diet and remain physically active.

See Joe’s Kidney Transplant Story. 

Kidney Health

If you have questions about your kidney health, visit with your health care professional. If there is a concern, your health care professional may suggest a urine test to check for a protein called albumin. This isn’t usually detected in healthy kidneys.

If your kidneys are healthy, have a glass of water to celebrate! And continue to take good care of yourself and your kidneys.

Meet the Author

Ajay Sahajpal, MD is a board-certified transplant and hepatobiliary surgeon specializing in liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants and complex cancer surgery at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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