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Kidney Education

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WHAT DO KIDNEYS DO?

Kidneys help you stay healthy by removing extra wastes and fluid from your body.

Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, found on either side of your spine and just below your rib cage. Most people have two kidneys, but some people have only one. You can be healthy with only one kidney if it is working.

Kidneys are small, but they keep your body chemistry in balance. All the blood in the body passes through the kidneys several times a day, so that they can remove wastes and fluid.

This is how kidneys work:

  • Blood enters the kidney through a large artery from the heart—the renal artery
  • The blood is cleaned as it passes through millions of blood filters in the kidneys—the nephrons
  • Wastes and fluid pass out of the kidneys to the bladder through tubes—the ureters.
  • The waste and fluid is stored in the bladder as urine
  • The bladder becomes full and then the urine passes out of the body

Healthy kidneys clean a persons’ blood 24 hours a day.
 

WHY DO KIDNEYS FAIL?

Kidneys may fail due to the following reasons:.

  • Untreated long-term high blood pressure
  • Diseases you may inherit, such as kidneys with cysts
  • Serious infections
  • Drug abuse
  • Kidney stones
  • Many urinary tract infections
  • Diabetes that is long-term or poorly controlled

All of these health problems can and will damage the nephrons in your kidneys.

If the nephrons are damaged, they cannot filter wastes out of your blood—which is vital to health. This will lead to a buildup of wastes and fluid in your body, and make you sick.
 

WHAT IS CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE?

Chronic Kidney Disease is a long-term illness that cannot be cured—only managed. There are five stages of kidney disease, leading to kidney failure. When a person reaches Stage 5, the kidneys have failed. This last phase is called End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).

There are only two possible treatments for ESRD: dialysis or a kidney transplant.
 

SIGNS OF END-STAGE KIDNEY DISEASE

The signs of End-Stage Renal Disease may include the following:

  • Swelling of the face, hands, and feet
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss or lack of appetite
  • Shortness of breath

Because dialysis can take over some of the things that are done by healthy kidneys, it may relieve these signs of ESRD. When your own kidneys can no longer function to keep you healthy, you will need dialysis treatment.
 

WHEN IS DIALYSIS NEEDED?

You will need dialysis when you have lost about 85 to 90% of your healthy kidney function.

Dialysis will replace about 10 to 15% of your kidney function, by:

  1. Helping to control your blood pressure, by removing fluid from the blood during your dialysis treatment.
  2. Making it possible for you to take medications, by filtering them from your circulation during the dialysis treatment.
  3. Keeping levels of important substances in your blood safely balanced—for example,
    potassium, sodium (salt), and bicarbonate.
  4. Removing wastes and fluid during your treatment so that they don’t build up in your body.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

American Association of Kidney Patients   Medicare  
American Diabetes Association   National Institutes of Health   
Association of Organ Procurement Organizations   National Kidney Foundation  
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services   National Kidney Foundation of Illinois  
End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Networks   Polycystic Kidney Research Foundation   
International Society of Nephrology   United Network for Organ Sharing  
International Society of Peritoneal Dialysis    US Renal Data System  
Kidney School     
 

 

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