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Your Amazing Kidneys: Don’t Take Them for Granted!

National Kidney Month

As a nephrologist I’m a bit biased, but the kidneys are pretty amazing organs! Each day normal kidneys filter 180 liters (50 gallons) of blood and remove waste, turning it into urine. They balance fluids and minerals and play a key role in blood pressure. They are also important in bone health and the production of red blood cells.

Kidney disease can impair these vital functions. Over 26 million people in the United States have kidney disease and the majority are unaware. Early kidney disease is often “silent,” meaning most people do not experience any symptoms. Therefore, it is important to know the risk factors for kidney disease.

You are at risk for kidney disease if:

  • You have diabetes or high blood pressure. These are the two leading causes of kidney disease.
  • You are age 60 or older.
  • You have a family member with kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
  • You are Black American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native. Black Americans are three times more likely and Hispanics 1.5 times more likely to have kidney disease compared to White Americans

If you are at risk for kidney disease, what can you do to protect your kidneys? Talk to your doctor about testing:

  • A urine test can look for protein, which is a sign of kidney damage. This test is called the ACR (albumin-to-creatinine ratio).
  • A blood test can measure creatinine (a waste product), which is used to measure how well your kidneys are working.

In general, what can we all do to protect our kidneys?

  • Eat a low salt (sodium) diet. Read labels and try to limit sodium intake to < 2000 milligrams a day. Food without salt can taste bland, so get creative with your cooking. Try spices, garlic, onions, fresh herbs, and citrus.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. You can break it up into three 10 minute intervals.
  • If you have risk factors, get checked out. Early detection and management of risk factors can prevent worsening of kidney disease.
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, work on quitting.
  • Avoid high or daily doses of over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). These can be hard on the kidneys and can raise blood pressure.

Contributor Fionnuala C. Cormack, MD is a nephrologist and assistant professor of medicine at University of Washington Medical Center in the division of nephology. She is based at Harborview Medical Center.

March is National Kidney Month

Fast facts:

  • 1 in 3 American adults is currently at risk for developing kidney disease.
  • 26 million American adults have kidney disease—and most don’t know it.
  • High blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney disease.

Sometimes changes in our body happen without warning signs or symptoms. You may not know you have kidney disease until you have blood and urine tests.

Read more on the National Kidney Foundation Fast Facts webpage.