The 7 Functions Of The Kidneys
Most people know that the primary function of the kidneys is to eliminate waste products from the body by flushing them out with urine. However, did you know that there are at least 6 other fabulous functions you should thank your kidneys for?
Shaheen Motiwala, MD is one of our nephrologist at Florida Kidney Physicians who loves to educate patients. Here is a brief overview of the 7 primary functions of the kidneys to help patients become more familiar with how these amazing organs work.
Why Are The Kidneys So Important
Most people know that a major function of the kidneys is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body. These waste products and excess fluid are removed through the urine. The production of urine involves highly complex steps of excretion and re-absorption. This process is necessary to maintain a stable balance of body chemicals.
The critical regulation of the body’s salt, potassium and acid content is performed by the kidneys. The kidneys also produce hormones that affect the function of other organs. For example, a hormone produced by the kidneys stimulates red blood cell production. Other hormones produced by the kidneys help regulate blood pressure and control calcium metabolism.
The kidneys are powerful chemical factories that perform the following functions:
- remove waste products from the body
- remove drugs from the body
- balance the body’s fluids
- release hormones that regulate blood pressure
- produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones
- control the production of red blood cells
Below you will find more information about the kidneys and the vital role they play in keeping your body functioning.
Signs You May Have Kidney Disease
More than 37 million American adults are living with kidney disease and most dont know it. There are a number of physical signs of kidney disease, but sometimes people attribute them to other conditions. Also, those with kidney disease tend not to experience symptoms until the very late stages, when the kidneys are failing or when there are large amounts of protein in the urine. This is one of the reasons why only 10% of people with chronic kidney disease know that they have it, says Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, Chief Medical Officer at the National Kidney Foundation.
While the only way to know for sure if you have kidney disease is to get tested, Dr. Vassalotti shares 10 possible signs you may have kidney disease. If youre at risk for kidney disease due to high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure or if youre older than age 60, its important to get tested annually for kidney disease. Be sure to mention any symptoms youre experiencing to your healthcare practitioner.
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Kidneys Are Sensitive To Their Environment
Humans are a complex and integrated creation and the kidneys work with the rest of your organs to help you live a healthy life. Unfortunately, when one organ or system fails to work properly, others can begin to fail as a result.
Whether they begin the process of failure, or are responding to other organ failures, when the kidneys falter, many life-altering issues can result.
Like any intricate machine, the kidney is highly sensitive to its environment. Every time our heart beats, the kidneys get about 20 percent of the blood that is pumped. If the kidneys do not receive enough blood, they will start to deteriorate.
Many acute illnesses, which are illnesses or medical conditions with severe or sudden onset, can cause blood flow to fall. So its very common to have acute kidney injury whenever we get acutely ill.
What Happens If My Kidneys Fail
If your kidneys fail, that means they have completely stopped doing their job to filter waste from your blood. Kidney failure is also called end-stage renal disease. Waste may build up in your blood and cause health problems, such as:
If this happens, you will need to start dialysis or have a kidney transplant to live.
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Secretion Of Active Compounds
The kidneys release several important compounds, including:
- Erythropoietin: This controls erythropoiesis, which is the production of red blood cells. The liver also produces erythropoietin, but the kidneys are its main producers in adults.
- Renin: This enzyme helps manage the expansion of arteries and the volumes of blood plasma, lymph, and interstitial fluid. Lymph is a fluid that contains white blood cells, which support immune activity, and interstitial fluid is the main component of extracellular fluid.
- Calcitriol: This is the hormonally active metabolite of vitamin D. It increases both the amount of calcium that the intestines can absorb and the reabsorption of phosphate in the kidney.
A range of diseases can affect the kidneys. Environmental or medical factors may lead to kidney disease, and they can cause functional and structural problems from birth in some people.
Signs Of Kidney Disease
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How Much Do My Kidneys Weigh
The weight of your kidneys varies. Variances may include your height, weight, age, body mass index and location.
For men and people assigned male at birth, your right kidney may range from 1/5 to about 1/2 lbs. . Your left kidney may range from a little less than 1/5 to a little more than 1/2 lbs. . Your kidneys may weigh between the weight of one tennis ball and four tennis balls.
For women and people assigned female at birth, your right kidney may range from a little more than 1/10 to 3/5 lbs. . Your left kidney may range from 3/20 to a little less than 3/5 lbs. . Your kidneys may weigh between the weight of one tennis ball or five tennis balls.
Prevention & Treatment Of Kidney Disease
Kidney disease is closely linked to high blood sugar, high blood pressure and smoking. The best way to prevent or delay kidney damage is to:
- keep your blood sugar and blood pressure at target
- avoid smoking
- take your medications as prescribed
- have your blood cholesterol checked annually and keep it at target
- follow a healthy meal plan
- exercise regularly
- talk to your doctor about getting screened
If you’ve already been diagnosed with kidney damage or kidney disease, you may need to limit certain foods to prevent waste products building up in your body. Your health-care team may suggest you limit protein foods or foods high in potassium, phosphate or sodium. Controlling your blood pressure is also very important. You should see a registered dietitian for diet advice that is right for you.
In advanced or “end-stage” kidney disease, dialysis may be needed to do the job of the kidneys.
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What Clinical Trials Are Open
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Where Are My Kidneys And What Do They Look Like
Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs near the middle of your back, one on either side of your spine. Each is about the size of a fist. Your kidneys are part of your urinary tract, which is the group of organs that make urine and remove it from your body. The urinary tract includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
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Measuring How Your Kidneys Work
It is difficult to calculate the exact rate at which your kidneys work. The best measure of kidney function is called the glomerular filtration rate . The GFR can be estimated using a mathematical formula. This formula uses the level of creatinine in your blood to estimate how well your kidneys are filtering waste from your blood. It can indicate if there is any kidney damage.
The higher the filtration rate, the better the kidneys are working. A GFR of 100 mL/min/1.73 m2 is in the normal range. This is about equal to 100 per cent kidney function. Based on this measurement system, a GFR of 50 mL/min/1.73 m2 could be called 50 per cent kidney function and a GFR of 30 mL/min/1.73 m2 could be called 30 per cent kidney function.
If your doctor orders a blood test to learn more about your kidney function, an eGFR result is provided automatically, along with your creatinine results.
Your doctor may also test for other signs and conditions that may indicate you have chronic kidney disease. These may include tests for:
- protein in your urine
- blood in your urine
- high blood pressure
How Do My Kidneys Filter Blood
Each kidney contains more than a million filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron consists of:
- Glomeruli: Glomeruli are groups of tiny blood vessels that perform the first stage of filtering your blood. They then pass filtered substances to the renal tubules. The name for this process is glomerular filtration.
- Renal tubules: These tiny tubes reabsorb and return water, nutrients and minerals your body needs . The tubules remove waste, including excess acid and fluids through a process called diffusion. Your body sends the remaining waste through your kidneys collecting chambers. Eventually, it leaves your body as pee.
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Jobs That Kidneys Do For Your Body
The five main jobs of kidneys, according to the National Kidney Foundation:
- Remove wastes and extra fluid
Your kidneys act as a filter to remove wastes and extra fluid from your body. They filter about 200 quarts of blood each day to make about 1 to 2 quarts of urine.
- Control blood pressure
Your kidneys need pressure to work properly. They can seek more if the pressure seems too low or can try to lower pressure that seems too high by controlling fluid levels and making a hormone that causes blood vessels to constrict.
- Make red blood cells
Kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin, which tells bone marrow to make red blood cells. These red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Damaged kidneys dont make enough of the hormone, and that prevents bone marrow from making enough red blood cells, which can cause anemia.
- Keep bones healthy
The kidneys convert vitamin D into an active form the body needs to absorb calcium and phosphorus, important minerals for keeping bones strong. Kidneys also balance the minerals so the right amounts are in your body.
- Control pH levels
A pH level is a measure of acid and base. Kidneys help maintain a healthy balance of the chemicals that control acid levels. Everyday processes from walking to digesting food create acid as a byproduct. Kidneys help determine the pH of your body and blood, and adjust it if its too acidic or basic.
Symptoms Of Kidney Disease
Each person may have different symptoms of kidney disease. Here are the most common:
- Frequent headaches
- Itchiness all over the body
- Blood in the urine
- Relieve swelling
- Protect your bones
Your kidney doctor also may recommend a lower protein diet to minimize waste products in your blood. Regular follow-up kidney tests may be necessary to see if your disease remains stable or is progressing.
I think I can confidently say that we all want to live a healthy life without having to worry about our kidneys failing, Dr. Young says. I believe the most important part of my job is to try to prevent further damage to the kidneys and try to help people live as long as possible, as naturally as possible.
Steven Baldridge, RN, is a staff educator at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.
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What Are Some Of The Causes Of Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease is defined as having some type of kidney abnormality, or “marker”, such as protein in the urine and having decreased kidney function for three months or longer.
There are many causes of chronic kidney disease. The kidneys may be affected by diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Some kidney conditions are inherited .
Others are congenital that is, individuals may be born with an abnormality that can affect their kidneys. The following are some of the most common types and causes of kidney damage.
Diabetes is a disease in which your body does not make enough insulin or cannot use normal amounts of insulin properly. This results in a high blood sugar level, which can cause problems in many parts of your body. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease.
High blood pressure is another common cause of kidney disease and other complications such as heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood against your artery walls increases. When high blood pressure is controlled, the risk of complications such as chronic kidney disease is decreased.
Glomerulonephritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the kidney’s tiny filtering units called the glomeruli. Glomerulonephritis may happen suddenly, for example, after a strep throat, and the individual may get well again.However, the disease may develop slowly over several years and it may cause progressive loss of kidney function.
Five Stages Of Chronic Kidney Disease
CKD is divided into 5 disease stages . CKD stage 3 is often subdivided into 3a and 3b. For simplicitys sake CKD stages 1 to 3a can be called early stage and CKD 3b to 5 late stage.
To help you make the right changes in your life it is necessary to know your disease stage, which tells you how far the disease has advanced. The five disease stages are determined on the basis of the glomerular filtration rate . Therefore, it is important for you to understand what the GFR is.
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The Effects Of Kidney Disease
Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage tiny blood vessels in your kidneys, which means they cannot filter your blood properly.
As a result, tiny particles of protein spill into the urine this is called microalbuminuria. As kidney disease progresses, larger amounts of protein spill into the urine this condition is called proteinuria.
As kidney disease progresses, waste products start to build up in your blood because your body can’t get rid of them. If left untreated, your kidneys will eventually fail and dialysis or a kidney transplant will be required.
Diabetes can also affect the nerves that tell you when your bladder is full. The pressure from a full bladder can damage the kidneys. If urine remains in the bladder for a long time, it can increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, which can spread to the bladder.
How Does Kidney Disease Affect Your Body
Kidney disease can affect you in a number of different ways. These include:
Proteinuria or protein in the urine is frequently the earliest symptom of kidney disease. You will have read, in the previous section, how the kidney works and that the kidney has about a million filters. When the kidney is healthy it allows very little protein into the urine. If these filters become leaky, small amounts of protein will leak into the urine. This is frequently an early sign of kidney trouble long before the kidney function itself begins to deteriorate.
Doctors frequently test patients urine for the presence of blood or protein, to try to detect kidney disease early. There are many causes of protein in the urine, including diabetes and glomerulonephritis. Whilst your doctor will conduct a number of special blood tests, to try to determine the underlying cause, it may be necessary to undergo a kidney biopsy, to establish the exact cause of the protein.
Patients who have very large amounts of protein in the urine, , are described as having nephrotic syndrome. Patients with nephrotic syndrome frequently have swollen legs.
Haematuria or blood in the urine can either be present in amounts that you can see or in amounts that you cannot see in which it is only detected with urine testing. Blood in the urine may not appear red but more like strong tea coloured.
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How Is Chronic Kidney Disease Detected
Early detection and treatment of chronic kidney disease are the keys to keeping kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure. Some simple tests can be done to detect early kidney disease. They are:
It is especially important that people who have an increased risk for chronic kidney disease have these tests. You may have an increased risk for kidney disease if you:
- are older