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Kidney disease: Causes and symptoms

Your kidneys are of vital important to the normal, healthy functioning of your body. To date, more than 485,000 Americans are being treated for kidney failure. Of those, more than 341,000 are on dialysis and more than 140,000 have had a kidney transplant. More concerning is that kidney disease on the rise, thanks to conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. March is National Kidney Month, giving you a reason to start raising your awareness of the devastating disease and take precautions to prevent it. Here’s what you need to know about kidney disease from causes and symptoms to treatments and prevention strategies.

Kidney Awareness Month

The importance of your kidneys

Your body has two kidneys, each about the size of a fist and located on either side of the spine at the lowest level of the rib cage. These vital organs perform several important bodily functions. First and foremost, kidneys act as your “clean sweep” system, clearing your body of waste and excess fluid. As your blood gets circulated throughout your body, it passes through the kidneys for cleansing.

The kidneys also produce hormones that help other organs function, regulating things like blood pressure and stimulating the production of red blood cells. They even produce a form of vitamin D that helps to build strong bones. If that weren’t enough, the kidneys regulate the electrolytes in your body, keeping them in a fine balance that promotes healthy functioning of other organs.

Causes of kidney disease

Kidney disease is defined as having some type of kidney abnormality or decreased kidney function (including problems with blood cleansing) for three months or longer.

The following conditions can damage kidney tissue and cause kidney disease:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • An inflammation of the kidneys (called nephritis)
  • Polycystic kidney disease (when the size and shape of the kidneys affects how the kidney functions)
  • Overdosing on certain medications

Signs and symptoms

There are several types of kidney disease. As a result, there is no defining list of symptoms someone may experience if they develop kidney problems.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Urinating too much or too little
  • Puffy, swollen eyes, feet and hands
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Itchy skin
  • A yellowish-brown tint to the skin
  • Urine that is cloudy or tea-coloured

Pain is usually not associated with kidney disease, though it has been known to occur in the lower back and groin.

Treatment for kidney disease

If you experience any symptoms or suspect you may have something wrong, see you doctor immediately. The most common way to test for kidney disease is through a urine test administered by a general practitioner. Once you have a diagnosis, you can work with your doctor on a treatment plan.

While kidney infections can easily be treated with medication or diet modification (for example, eating less salt and protein until the kidneys can function properly again), treating acute or chronic kidney failure is more difficult.

With acute kidney disease, which develops suddenly, treating the underlying cause will help; for example, if you have high blood pressure, alter your lifestyle to lower blood pressure.

Chronic kidney failure may be the result of long-term damage to the kidneys. In this case, dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary.

Prevention of kidney disease

Kidney disease is preventable, but it requires you to take care of yourself and follow a healthy lifestyle.

Here are a few effective ways to prevent kidney disease:

  1. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Normal blood pressure promotes kidney health.
  2. Look at your urine. If your urine becomes cloudy, smelly or foamy, see your doctor immediately. These are signs of a urinary tract infection and, if left untreated, can damage your kidneys.
  3. Stay active. Getting your blood pumping will help your kidneys function normally as well as reduce your risk of other diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that can damage your kidneys.
  4. Drink lots of water. Water helps cleanse impurities from your kidneys, allowing them to work more effectively. Staying well-hydrated is also essential for other bodily functions.

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