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Keeping your kidneys healthy

It's World Kidney Day on 8th March - with research revealing that one in three Australians are at risk of kidney disease, could you be one of them?

The kidneys play an essential role in keeping your body running smoothly. But with one in three Australians at risk of developing chronic kidney disease, how can you ensure you’re taking the best care of one of the most important organs in the body? Ahead of World Kidney Day, we look at the importance of kidney’s to your overall health and how you can protect yourself from kidney disease.

What do the kidneys actually do?

The most crucial role kidneys play in the body is acting as your very own filtering system. When your body processes food to use for energy, some waste products are left in the blood, such as urea and ammonium. These chemicals can be toxic in high concentrations, so your kidneys filter the blood and send the waste products to your bladder for you to expel as urine.

In addition to filtering the blood, your kidneys are also responsible for regulating blood pressure, controlling the production of red blood cells, and producing vitamin D for strong, healthy bones.

Safe to say, they’re pretty important organs. So it’s even more important you look after them. But what happens if you don’t?

Kidney disease: what types are there?

There are many types of kidney disease, all of which occur when the blood filtering system is unable to do its job properly. Kidney disease is classified broadly into two categories – acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.

Acute kidney injury is a rapid loss of kidney function, which means excessive waste products build up in the blood. Acute kidney injury is usually the result of dehydration, blood loss, infection or kidney stones. It is often reversible with time, but if it is severe enough it can result in permanent damage.

Chronic kidney disease is more common and is a gradual loss of kidney function over a long period of time – usually three months or more. In cases where it progresses to end-stage kidney disease, some patients need dialysis to survive.

Kidney disease symptoms to watch out for

In the case of acute kidney injury, your impaired kidney function is likely to result in symptoms like a small volume of urine, fatigue, nausea or limb swelling.

Chronic kidney disease, however, is often known as a silent disease, as many people lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before symptoms present. When they do present many of the symptoms are quite general. However, some things to look out for include:

  • high blood pressure
  • burning feeling or pain when passing urine
  • changes in how often or how much urine you’re passing
  • changes in the appearance of your urine, such as frothiness or blood
  • puffy ankles and legs, or even around your eyes
  • pain in the back (below the ribs- where your kidneys are)
  • general symptoms like tiredness, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, headaches or breathlessness.

Chronic kidney disease: who is most at risk?

Smoking, being overweight, and having diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or a family history of kidney disease are all risk factors for developing chronic kidney disease. If you think you are at risk, it’s best to speak with your GP about your level of risk and possible testing.

How do you test for chronic kidney disease?

If you have one or more risk factors for chronic kidney disease, it’s recommended you see your doctor for a kidney health check every two years. A kidney health check involves three tests which are normally carried out by your GP:

  • Urine test: This is used to test for a type of protein called albumin that is not normally in your urine
  • Blood test: This is to test the level of waste products –creatinine—in your blood. 
This result is then combined with your age, ethnicity and gender to determine your ‘glomerular filtration rate’, or GFR.
  • Blood pressure test: High blood pressure can cause kidney disease. On the flip side, kidney disease can also cause high blood pressure.

MORE: Eight things you should know about preventing disease

How to keep your kidneys healthy

Here are some simple tips to ensure your kidneys remain healthy and continue doing their job:

  1. Healthy diet and exercise: a well-balanced diet and active lifestyle will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease — two conditions known to increase your risk of kidney disease.
  2. Drink water when you’re thirsty: Drinking plenty of water helps the kidneys flush out sodium, urea and toxin from the blood.
  3. Don’t smoke: Among many other health risks linked to smoking, tobacco raises blood pressure and can slow the flow of blood to the kidneys, impairing their function.
  4. Limit your alcohol intake: Unhealthy drinking can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure – two conditions known t increase your risk of kidney disease.
  5. Avoid anti-inflammatories: medicines like ibuprofen can cause damage to your kidneys if taken too regularly. If you suffer from chronic pain, talk to your doctor about how to manage it without putting your kidneys at risk.

Remember, if you know you’re at risk of developing chronic kidney disease, seek regular tests with your GP to avoid the onset of more serious health issues. Read more about living with a chronic condition here.

Kidney Health Australia www.kidney.org.au

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