Though our kidneys are small (roughly the size of a fist), they are mighty.
“Kidney health is critical to overall health,” shares Dr. Jusmin Patel, of Sierra Nevada Nephrology Consultants (SNCC). “Our kidneys are powerful chemical factories that keep our bodies functioning properly.”
Our kidneys are working 24/7, providing the vital life-sustaining task of filtering our blood. This makes them responsible for:
- Removing drugs from our bodies
- Removing waste products from our bodies
- Balancing our bodies’ fluid status
- Regulating hormones that help control blood pressure
- Producing the active form of vitamin D that promotes strong and healthy bones
- Controlling production blood cells in the body
- Balancing electrolytes in our bodies
- Balancing pH levels in our blood
Taking care of our kidneys
“The best thing you can do for your kidneys is to lead an overall healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Patel advises. “This means exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco and other recreational drugs, and minimizing alcohol consumption.”
Dr. Patel says it’s important that we all get educated about our medical conditions and take an active role in managing our own health. This means scheduling regular doctors’ appointments, getting our exams completed on a regular schedule and understanding what our lab results mean.
“And if you have chronic medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, it’s important to manage them through diet and exercise before they turn into something bigger like kidney disease or even failure,” Dr. Patel says.
He also cautions about using OTC supplements, even if they are marketed as kidney-friendly, because much of the time these medicines are no better than placebos or can even be harmful to kidneys.
“Because they’re not regulated by the FDA, we don’t know what’s in them,” he says. “Patients should consult with their doctors before taking any supplements.”
When to be concerned
“Our kidneys are so effective at what they do, that you could lose up to 90 percent of your kidney function and not even realize it, because it’s not symptomatic until then,” Dr. Patel warns.
Dr. Patel says that when kidney function gets to 20 percent or less, patients may be seeing some or all of these warning signs:
- Change in how often you urinate
- Edema — swelling of the face, feet, belly, and/or other areas
- Loss of appetite and chronic nausea
- Bitter or metallic taste in mouth with or without food
- Feeling tired and/or weak
- Dry, itchy skin
- Mental status changes such as inability to concentrate or confusion
Is it time to see a doctor?
Dr. Patel advises patients to talk to their physician about their kidneys in the following cases:
- If you notice decreasing kidney function based on the signs listed above
- If you notice blood in your urine
- If you have a prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Celebrex
- Whenever the glomerular filtration rate — more commonly known as GFR — on your labs is less than 60
Those who have diabetes should get checked every year. Patients with high blood pressure, heart diseases or a family history of kidney failure should talk to their health care provider about an appropriate schedule.
“There is no cure for kidney failure, only dialysis and organ transplant,” Dr. Patel says. “So it’s very important that we take care of them before they get to that point.”
If you have questions about your kidneys or you would like to see a specialist to evaluate their function, call SNNC at 775-322-4550 to schedule a consultation.