March is National Kidney Month
If you see people wearing green ribbons in March, it might be they are Irish or honoring St. Patrick’s Day, but it also might be to raise awareness for National Kidney Month! The kidneys are a sometimes over-looked, but important part of several of the body’s organ systems. They consist of two bean-shaped organs located on either side in the low back. Their purpose is to filter blood and make urine to eliminate water and toxins, as well as to maintain a healthy electrolyte balance. They also produce hormones which stimulate red blood cell production. In addition, the kidneys help to control blood pressure and regulate vitamins and minerals which promote healthy bones.
The kidneys are sensitive to fluid volume in the body and can be adversely affected when the body is dehydrated. They can also be affected by many prescription and over the counter medicines but fortunately the damage is often reversible. Symptoms which are non-specific but can accompany worsening kidney function include: swelling in face and hands and legs, blood in urine, foamy urine, changes in patterns of urination, excessive thirst and fatigue.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a serious condition affecting 26 million American adults. 1 in 3 American adults is at high risk for developing kidney disease and 1 in 9 American adults have it. High blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure and being over 60 are major risk factors for developing kidney disease. Often overlooked until symptoms appear, CKD is progressive and can put you at risk for serious health complications including kidney failure. Early detection and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you manage and slow progression of CKD and its complications.
If kidney function worsens, electrolytes and minerals need to be closely monitored. The body can manage with some degree of abnormal kidney function, but ultimate treatment when the kidneys cannot perform their functions include dialysis and kidney transplant. Dialysis involves a machine which can perform the filtration function outside of the body, then return the blood to the body. This has to be done frequently and the fluid volume, electrolytes and minerals have to be closely monitored. Fortunately the body can function with only one kidney so it is fairly common for a patient in need of a kidney transplant to be matched with a living donor.
Things that you can do to maintain healthy kidneys include:
1. Manage blood pressure and diabetes. Work with your doctor to meet your blood pressure goals and check your blood glucose level regularly if you have diabetes. Most doctors will check your kidney function at least annually if you have hypertension or diabetes.
2. Take medicine as prescribed and avoid excess use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Certain prescription meds can help protect the kidneys, whereas others can harm them, particularly if your body is dehydrated.
3. Aim for a healthy weight. Create a healthy meal plan and if needed, seek professional assistance to develop a weight-loss plan that works for you.
4. Avoid processed foods. These can be a significant course of sodium, nitrates and phosphates and have been linked to kidney disease.
5. Reduce stress and make physical activity part of your routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
6. Stay well hydrated.
7. Quit smoking.