High blood pressure and diabetes are the top two causes of kidney disease, a disease that can be deadly if not caught in its early stages. According to the National Kidney Foundation approximately 20 million Americans (1 in 9 adults) have the disease and another 20 million are at risk for it. Kidney disease is often a silent intruder and most don’t know that they have it until the disease has progressed to a life-threatening stage. In 2005 researchers reported that nearly half of the people in their study with an advanced form of kidney disease did not know they had weak or failing kidneys. If kidney disease is caught too late the “only” options for survival are a lifetime of dialysis or a kidney transplant.
The kidneys serve many important functions to the overall health of the body. Resting just below your ribcage on your backside, they each contain over a million tiny vessels called nephrons that act as filters for your blood. Every 30 minutes your entire blood supply is sent through the kidneys and, on a daily basis, more than 2 quarts of waste are filtered out and sent to the bladder to be excreted as urine. Without this vital function the waste would build-up within the bloodstream and rapidly cause damage to the other organs, a condition called Uremia.
During this filtration process the kidneys also regulate the body’s mineral composition. As blood passes through the kidneys, key chemicals that the body needs are extracted from the waste, such as sodium, phosphorus and potassium, and sent back into the bloodstream for use.
The kidneys are also in charge of regulating the body’s acid-alkaline balance by maintaining a proper pH level of 7.4. If the pH level exceeds 7.4 the body will become alkaline whereas, if the level drops below 7.4 the body will become acidic. In order to function at optimal levels, the body must maintain a proper acid-alkaline balance. Acidosis is a major health problem in America today and the most likely cause of many of the age-related diseases that we are experiencing, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Lastly, the kidneys serve the important functions of regulating the body’s fluid levels as well as releasing 3 important hormones into the body: eEPOspell out Erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells; renin which regulates the blood pressure; and calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D which helps maintain calcium for bones and for normal chemical balance in the body.
When both kidneys are functioning properly your renal function is considered to be 100%. While we have two kidneys, the body only requires the presence of one fully functioning kidney to do its job successfully. When renal function drops to 25% or below (less than half of one kidney functioning properly) serious health problems will begin to occur. If renal function is below 15% you will die unless dialysis or a transplant is performed.
There are 3 degrees of kidney disease: Acute Renal Failure, Chronic Kidney Disease and End Stage Renal Disease. Acute Renal Failure (ARF) is characterized by a sudden drop in kidney function, generally brought on by an accident that injures the kidneys, a sudden loss of blood or a poisonous toxin such as drugs. ARF can lead to the permanent loss of kidney function if not treated immediately, however, if the kidneys are not severely damaged, the renal failure may be reversed.
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is the gradual loss of kidney function, and the most common form of kidney disease today. If left untreated, CKD will lead to permanent kidney failure and those with the disease are at a high risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. In the early stages of CKD there often are no symptoms that the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, however, as the disease progresses patients may begin to experience fatigue, dry and/or itchy skin, frequent urination, loss of appetite, nausea, swelling of the hands or feet, numbness in the hands or feet, trouble concentrating, darkening of the skin or muscle cramps. Other complications associated with CKD include anemia, weak bones, nerve damage and heart disease.
End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is the total or nearly total loss of kidney function. Once the kidneys have reached ESRD the damage has become permanent and therefore irreversible. Those diagnosed with ESRD will need to undergo dialysis on a daily basis or have a kidney transplant in order to survive.
If detected early enough the progression of the disease may be slowed down. Since two-thirds of all kidney disease cases are caused by either high blood pressure or diabetes, controlling your blood pressure and blood glucose levels can be key to prolonging the disease. It is also recommended that those with kidney disease follow a low protein eating plan and maintain their levels of cholesterol since high cholesterol can cause high blood pressure. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking are both key steps to slowing the progression of the disease.
There are valuable tests that your doctor can perform to determine if your kidneys are functioning properly. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney problems, see your doctor today to have your kidney function evaluated. Don’t be one of the 50% who aren’t aware of their kidney disease. The sooner that you are evaluated, the sooner a treatment plan can begin. An early diagnoses can mean a long and healthy life if the proper steps are taken. Take the first step by setting up an appointment today!
Dr. Connealy, M.D., M.P.H. began private practice in 1986. In 1992 she founded her medical practice in California. Her practice is firmly based in the belief that strictly treating health problems with medications does not find the root cause of the illness. Dr. Connealy writes monthly columns for Coast and Health magazines, and is a weekly cohost on Frank Jordan’s “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise” radio show. She routinely lectures and educates the public on health issues. Please visit [http://www.perfectlyhealthy.net] for product and more information
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