Your Kidneys: Ensuring Your Overall Health

World Kidney Month reveals links between kidney disease, heart disease, and overall health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Patients of kidney disease are not the only ones who need to know about kidney health. You need to be informed too, as the health of your kidneys is vital to your overall health.

In order to inform the public about the importance of kidney health, the International Society of Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations is recognizing World Kidney Month in March.

Their campaign focuses on multiple aspects of kidney health promotion, including: raising awareness about our "amazing kidneys; underlining the relationship between chronic kidney disease and diabetes and high blood pressure; encouraging screening for chronic kidney disease in all patients with diabetes and high blood pressure; promoting preventive behaviors; educating medical professionals about their essential role in detecting and reducing the risk of chronic kidney disease; and stressing the role of health authorities in controlling the epidemic of chronic kidney disease.

Your kidneys play a significant role in your overall health. These organs - which are only about the size of fists - are responsible for removing toxins and excess water from your blood, as well as keeping water in when you are dehydrated. More specifically, the kidneys' main role is to filter and secrete metabolites and minerals from the blood. They then excrete the filtered metabolites and minerals in the form of urine.

The kidneys also help manage blood pressure by regulating the amount of salt and water in your body, a function that can be undermined in patients with diabetes.

Diabetes and Your Kidneys

Kidney failure is one of the most serious complications associated with diabetes. In fact, diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Roughly 30 percent of patients with type 1 diabetes and 10 to 40 percent of of those with type 2 diabetes will be affected by kidney failure.

Diabetes can cause injury to small blood vessels in the body. If the kidneys happen to get damaged, they cannot clean the blood effectively. Damaged kidneys will also cause the body to hold more water and salt than it is supposed to, often leading to weight gain and swollen ankles.

Diabetes can also damage nerves, potentially making it hard to empty the bladder. As pressure in the bladder builds, the kidneys can be backed up and damaged.

High Blood Pressure and Your Kidneys

High blood pressure, or hypertension, also poses a significant risk to patients with chronic kidney disease. High blood pressure puts an added strain on blood vessels in all parts of the body, including the kidneys. With this added strain, it becomes harder for the kidneys to filter wastes from the blood.

High blood pressure can not only cause chronic kidney disease, it also can be the result of chronic kidney disease. As heart disease is a much more immediate threat than end-stage renal disease for most patients with chronic kidney disease, the effective management of blood pressure in kidney patients is crucial. Chronic kidney disease patients who lower their blood pressure also reduce their risk of end-stage renal disease, which requires either dialysis or a kidney transplant.

About 80 percent of chronic kidney disease patients suffer from high blood pressure.

Protecting Your Kidneys

One of the best ways to prevent chronic kidney disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Exercising, eating healthy foods low in calories and salt, and avoiding smoking are all good ways to take care of your kidneys.

As kidney disease is heavily associated with diabetes and high blood pressure, it is also important to avoid the risk factors of these health complications. You will likely make your kidneys happy if you maintain a healthy weight, stay active, eat healthy, and keep an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Health care professionals play an integral role - primarily as educators - in keeping your kidneys healthy. Your doctor can provide you with information and guidance on maintaining kidney health. If you tell your doctor of any family history of diabetes, the both of you can begin to take the proper precautions to avoid developing diabetes, and thus help protect against chronic kidney disease.

The most important role for doctors is to encourage regular screening for chronic kidney disease in patients with diabetes or high blood pressure. A routine urine test can quickly determine if there is a problem. The sooner that kidney disease is identified, the easier it is treat and prevent more serious complications.

With over 26 million Americans suffering from kidney disease, it is essential to increase awareness in order to stop the growing epidemic. It is especially critical for diabetics and those with high blood pressure to become more educated about the risks they face. Even when kidney disease seems unavoidable, we can prevent further complications by detecting the disease early.

Addressing the global kidney disease problem will simultaneously address numerous other diseases, and hopefully make the world a healthier place.

Review Date: 
March 9, 2011