Kidney Health: Taking Care And Possible Problems | Men's Health Magazine Australia

How To Take Care Of Your Kidneys

On World Kidney Day, we spoke to Melbourne-based doctor Kieran Kennedy who explained the importance of looking after your kidneys. Here’s the low-down on kee

Why is it important to take care of the kidneys?

Our kidneys make up a pair of unsung heroes when it comes to our everyday health. Resting as two kidney beans shaped organs an average length of 11cm in men and 10cm in women, our kidneys play a vital role in many of our most basic bodily functions. Some of the most vital roles here include water balance, blood pressure, removal of toxins and metabolites, the body’s acid/base levels and electrolyte balance. Alongside this, our kidneys are involved in red blood cell formation and healthy bone growth. Oh, and by way of doing all that, they of course package all the necessaries into our urine and are the reason why we pee.

Looking out for our kidneys is something that’s thus super important when it comes to everyday health – but it’s something we might easily forget when they’re busy silently doing their thing, and we’re busy doing ours. World Kidney Day is a global movement calling for us all to think about, look after and check up on how our kidneys are doing. Alongside, it’s about raising awareness for those who live with various types of kidney disease day in day out.

Kidney disease makes up one of biggies when it comes to chronic illness, with stats pointing to between 8 and 10 per cent of the total adult population suffering some form of kidney damage. One in 10 suffer diagnosable Chronic Kidney Disease in some form, a condition in which the kidneys slowly decline in function over time.

When our kidneys don’t function properly risks related to abnormal blood pressure, electrolyte balance, toxin removal, red blood cell formation and other important parts of health are at risk. With severe kidney dysfunction or disease, our ability make urine and balance even basic bodily functions can be severely compromised. This has important flow on effects for heart health, bones, fluid balance and even mental health.

It’s thus vital we think about these silent workhorses of the body, and ensure we’re looking after our kidneys. Health basics, managing conditions that put our kidneys under strain and checking up on things regularly are the best way forward.

What are some signs that your kidney function isn’t great?

Kidney disease is split broadly into two groups – one that occurs suddenly from an acute problem (Acute Kidney Injury/Disease) like loss of blood pressure or severe dehydration, and one that occurs slowly with time (Chronic Kidney Disease).

In both instances, we’re unlikely to encounter significant symptoms unless things are really severe. Particularly with Chronic Kidney Disease (where things slowly decline over time), there can be no signs until really late down the track. A number of routine blood tests, and some urine related checks, are ways that doctors generally check in on how the kidneys are doing.

Any sudden change in urine output (less or no peeing at all, or a major unexplained increase in peeing) can signal a sudden and significant change in how our kidneys are working. A change in how our urine looks can signal problems too – any blood, significant change in colour or frothy urine should signal a need for a check up.

Similarly, significant problems with our kidneys can lead to rising blood pressure or fluid retention (swollen ankles/legs for example), as well as problems concentrating, tiredness, nausea and generally feeling unwell. Major changes in levels of thirst and drinking can signal a number of things, but might signal issues with our kidneys as well as things that can effect them (like diabetes).

Periods of significant dehydration, loss of blood pressure or fluid loss are some of the causes of Acute Kidney Injury, but major injuries, immune reactions, infection and blockages in the water works can also be a cause problems. The most common cause of our kidneys not doing great world wide however are high blood pressure and diabetes – in both cases, strain on the delicate filters inside the kidneys can mean things are slowly damaged over time.

With diabetes and high blood pressure in particular, it’s vital we keep an eye on how we’re feeling, how we’re peeing and what regular blood/urine tests are showing at the doctor’s office. Because symptoms of struggling kidneys might not show until late, if you’ve got these conditions or have any concerns it’s best to see your doc and get things checked.

Medication shaped as kidney

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What are the best ways to take care of your kidneys?

The biggest thing we can do to look after our kidneys is to look after the rest of our health in general – particularly when it comes to high blood pressure and diabetes, it’s keeping things the can impact on our kidney health in check that often makes the biggest difference.

As we get older, a normal very slow decline in kidney function can occur. It’s thus important to have a regular check up with your doctor to see how the powerhouse organs are doing in general. For those with high blood pressure, diabetes or conditions specifically affecting the kidneys (i.e. certain autoimmune conditions) then more regular checks are vital. Keeping our blood pressure within lower ranges with recommended medications and lifestyle adjustments does our kidneys a big favour. For those with diabetes, keeping blood glucose levels low and stable is a massively protective factor too.

Keeping ourselves well hydrated, looking after our weight, watching our blood pressure and limiting prolonged high glucose levels (for those with diabetes) are some keys here. Particularly for those with other risk factors for kidney disease or certain medications, overuse of anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen is actually another way we can give our kidneys an unwanted hit – talking to your doctor about using these safely alongside your health conditions (especially for those who have kidney problems) is important.

Can the kidneys recover from damage?

The potential for our kidneys to recover from damage depends largely on the cause of the problem, and how bad things have become. It is possible for kidney injury to correct itself and for kidneys to recover, but avoiding this in the first place is the priority here. 

For sudden hits and injury to our kidneys (like dehydration, a period of really low blood pressure, or an infection) – most people can recover fully with appropriate medical care and monitoring. Significant damage, or chronic kidney disease that slowly declines with time, is less likely to fully recover however.

Importantly, even chronic kidney disease can respond to steps to reduce pressure on the kidneys themselves. While some sources of damage to the kidney (or severe damage) might not ever fully recover, further damage can definitely be limited or slowed. Picking things up early is vital – so if you’ve got previously noted kidney issues, high blood pressure or diabetes then monitoring things via blood and urine tests regularly with your doctor are key. Reducing high blood pressure, keeping sugar levels stable and ensuring we’re keeping ourselves well hydrated are some of the best ways to help our kidneys continue to do their thing.

If you damage your kidney, what are some of the likely outcomes?

Kidney damage can come from a number of sources – so the outcomes will often depend on what the cause is/was, and just how bad that damage is.

Reversible causes of kidney damage are more likely to be things that happen suddenly and can be medically addressed/righted quickly. Things like significant (but short lived) dehydration, infection or loss of blood flow that injures kidneys are often more likely to have good outcomes and full recovery if treated quickly.

Even damage that can’t be reserved can be limited and supported without major impacts to the body necessarily; as long as we protect and look after our remaining kidney function. Hydration, keeping blood pressure in check, keeping blood sugar levels stable and sticking to recommended treatments can all help here. Regular monitoring of how things are going is often vital to addressing slower or longer term declines in kidney function – so it’s vital we stay in regular contact with our doctor for check ups.

Physical damage to the kidneys (i.e. from injury or accidents), severe injury or slowly developing chronic kidney disease that worsens with time are more likely to lead to ongoing kidney problems. In these cases means to assist and even replace injured kidneys is sometimes needed if things reach critical levels. Dialysis (a process where blood is passed through machines outside the body that help do the job of the kidneys like filtering and balancing fluid) is common worldwide, and needs to be started when damage reaches levels where the kidneys can’t cope on their own. For severe damage with no hope of improvement, kidney transplants might be considered.

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