Why kidneys matter to your health

Kidneys filter your blood about 400 times a day. 

May 14, 2020


March is National Kidney Month, but it's important to be aware of your kidneys year round. They filter your entire blood supply approximately 400 times a day. Your kidneys will take care of you as long as you take care of them.

What are the kidneys?

Your kidneys are a pair of fist-sized organs that contain millions of blood vessels. Each day, your kidneys filter about 200 quarts of fluid and return it to your bloodstream based on your body’s needs. They also remove waste products in the form of urine.

In addition, the kidneys:

  • Release hormones that keep blood pressure in a normal range 
  • Help control calcium metabolism 
  • Control the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body 
  • Produce vitamin D, which contributes to strong bones

Your kidneys are located on either side of your spine, right below your lowest rib bone. And the work they do impacts every other organ in your body.

Why is kidney health so important?

Signs of possible kidney problems include:

  • Frequent urinary tract infections 
  • Kidney stones 
  • Fluid retention
  • Frequent urination 
  • Pain when urinating 

If you have symptoms like these, see your doctor. While nearly all of these concerns are treatable, they can be a sign of kidney disease. And it’s important to catch kidney disease early. 

Once damaged, kidneys will never work the same way again. If kidney disease leads to kidney failure, the filtering they do can only be replaced by artificial dialysis or a complete kidney transplant.

Chronic kidney disease vs. kidney failure

Chronic kidney disease is any condition that doesn’t allow your kidneys to work normally. When this happens, kidneys don’t filter waste efficiently. This waste can build up in your blood and lead to:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Low blood count (anemia) 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Greater risk of heart and blood vessel disease 

This can happen slowly over time, often with no obvious signs. Early detection by blood tests is critical if you think you might be at risk.

Kidney failure is the last stage of chronic kidney disease. It means your kidneys suddenly can’t filter waste products from the blood. Patients with kidney failure need dialysis or a kidney transplant to restore kidney function.

What increases your risk for kidney disease?

Age and a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure are the leading risk factors for chronic kidney disease. Others are being seriously overweight, certain drug use (prescription and illegal) and a family history of the disease.

How can I take care of my kidneys?

If you think you’re at risk for chronic kidney disease, get tested to rule it out. Your doctor can help you determine your options. 

If tests indicate that you’re at risk, there are steps you can take to slow down the disease’s progression:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Quit smoking (the leading preventable cause of premature death in the U.S.).
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
  • Eat plant protein and limit foods with animal protein.
  • Reduce salt in your diet (a cause of high blood pressure, which further damages kidneys).
  • Exercise to stay fit and ease stress

Simply knowing what your kidneys do can make you want to take better care of them and your health overall. If you have any concerns about your kidneys, talk with your doctor. 

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.