We are all familiar with what a kidney looks like. First and foremost, it is that bean-shaped organ that is located just behind the stomach, one on each side. For a refresher, the kidneys are the body’s cleaning agents. Waste products are carried by the blood to the kidneys for filtration and such are disposed of through urination. They are the main organs in the excretory system and help regulate blood pressure and electrolyte balance. They also aid in the production of red blood cells.
When the kidneys fail, there will be an accumulation of excess fluids and waste products in the body which may cause lethargy, weakness, swelling, shortness of breath, confusion, and more. Furthermore, a build-up of potassium in the bloodstream will result in irregular heartbeats and even sudden death. However, kidney failure in its initial stages usually will not manifest any symptoms.
Kidney failure can be caused by several factors and treat the underlying disease is important in correcting kidney abnormalities. Some failures are treatable where kidney functions can be brought back to normalcy. Others, unfortunately, might be progressive and the damage done to the kidneys could be irreversible.
Blood tests can confirm the health status of the kidneys by measuring different factors. Failing kidneys need to be treated immediately to get them to function again normally. Taking care of oneself by controlling blood pressure levels and diabetes is the surest way to avoid chronic kidney diseases and the development of kidney failure. Remember that age will gradually decrease kidney function, and if these organs eventually succumb, the person is left with two options, either dialysis or a transplant.
How Do the Kidneys Work?
Kidneys play different roles in the functioning of the body. They filter the blood by ridding it of toxic products. They also control blood pressure, stimulate red blood cell production, and balance the levels of electrolytes in the body.
Kidneys acquire their blood supply from the arteries which are connected to the aortal artery of the heart. After the blood is filtered through the kidneys, it’s sent back to the heart through the vena cava.
When blood is brought to the kidneys, specialized cells provided with sensors will control the amount of water that will be excreted in urine, and the concentration of electrolytes should be retained. When there is enough water in the system, urine becomes more diluted and clearer. This system is regulated by renin, which is a hormone which the kidney produces, and the same hormone is also involved in the regulation of blood pressure.
As mentioned earlier, kidneys have some role in the production of red blood cells. The kidneys produce erythropoietin, the hormone which stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. There are specialized kidney cells that regulate the oxygen content of the blood. If the oxygen levels drop below normal, the kidneys respond by producing more erythropoietin, which in turn will induce the bone marrow to produce more RBCs.
After blood filtration, urine now containing waste products will pass through the urethra of each kidney. This is the tube that links the kidneys to the bladder. The urine is temporarily stored in the bladder until such time when “nature calls,” where the bladder would empty the urine through the urethra tube and out of the body.
The Common Causes of Kidney Failure
The most common causes of kidney failure are through accidents where the kidneys would sustain serious damages or from persistent diseases that will slowly cause the kidneys to stop working.
With acute renal failures, the functioning of kidneys is lost quickly due to some serious assault on the body. Persons normally have two functioning kidneys, and for a complete failure to happen in acute renal failure, both kidneys would have to be damaged irreparably. In such case, a donor kidney may be transplanted. It is rare that both kidneys will be damaged at the same time. When one kidney is infected, it can be taken out. The person can still live normally with just one functioning kidney. Here are some causes that can lead to kidney failure:
- Low blood pressure or hypovolemia caused by blood loss.
- The loss of body fluids or dehydration and can be caused by vomiting, excessive sweating, diarrhea, and fever.
- Poor fluid intake.
- Diuretics and other medications can result in too much water loss.
- Abnormal blood supply to and from the kidneys due to the obstruction of its arteries and veins.
When a person’s kidneys are suffering, he might start experiencing some “invisible” signs. These symptoms are considered invisible because they could be caused by other illnesses. Either that or even if they occur, they aren’t very alarming and so people usually ignore them. Here are some of the most common signs of kidney failure:
Constant Fatigue. Without a functioning filtration system due to kidney problems, there will be a build-up of toxins and impurities in the blood. This will affect body functions, and the individual will experience always feeling weak or exhausted.
Anemia may even set in because the kidney may not be able to produce erythropoietin, the hormone that stimulates Red Blood Cell production in the bone marrow. RBCs are responsible for carrying oxygen to our body cells which includes our muscles and the brain. Less oxygen could only mean less activity. Anemic people are usually being lethargic and always feel fatigued.
Loss of appetite. Loss of appetites can be caused by many disorders. It will mean though that there is something wrong with the system. This factor should be taken into consideration when discussing causes of kidney failures.
When food starts to taste like metal, it is a symptom of kidney trouble. After all, the increasing levels of waste materials and toxins in the blood can make food taste differently and can cause bad breath. People with kidney problems usually stay away from meats and have poor appetites.
Sleeping problems. Without filtration, the toxins cannot be excreted and will remain in the body. This could cause sleepless nights. People with chronic kidney diseases are more liable to suffer sleep apnea or some other sleeping disorder when compared with people with healthy kidneys.
Skin dryness. Another symptom of kidney disorders is skin dryness and itchiness. Aside from cleansing the blood of impurities, the kidney also helps in the production of red blood cells, maintain bone strength, and regulate the right amounts of minerals in the blood. Dryness and itchiness of the skin may happen when the kidneys can no longer regulate the balance of nutrients and minerals in the blood.
Issues with urine. Feeling the urge to urinate frequently especially at night could be an indication of some kidney problem. This is may be due to damage incurred by the kidney’s filters. But the problem can also be caused by a urinary tract infection or the enlargement of the prostate gland in men.
Healthy kidneys usually retain the healthy blood cells while filtering the waste from the blood and form urine. However, kidney filters that are damaged may cause the blood to leak out and go into the urine. Blood in urine is never a good sign. Aside from an indication of some kidney trouble, this can also be an indication of kidney stones, infections, and more.
Foamy or bubbly urine can also be a sign of a kidney problem. This is an indication that there is protein in your urine. The consistency is that of scrambled eggs, maybe because the protein involved is albumin, the same protein you find in eggs.
Feeling dizzy, nauseous or weak. People with kidney problems tire easily, even with minimal effort. The shortness of breath may be caused by excess fluid in the body which might build up in the lungs. It may also be caused by oxygen shortage due to a decrease in red blood cells.
The feelings of dizziness and weakness can be attributed to the brain’s shortage of oxygen supply. The severe build-up of toxins in the blood caused by kidney problems will affect the digestive processes and can lead to vomiting, nausea, upset stomach, and more.
Swelling, puffiness, and cramping. When related to kidney problems, puffiness around the eyes may be caused by the kidneys leaking large amounts of protein in the urine when it should be storing it in the body. A decrease in kidney function will result in the retention of sodium in the body, and this will lead to swelling of your lower extremities. Your ankles and feet are the main targets. Swelling has been linked to heart diseases, liver disorders, and others.
As mentioned earlier, the kidneys regulate the electrolyte balance in the body. Imbalances in electrolyte levels can be caused by a weakened kidney function. Unregulated calcium and phosphorus levels can lead to muscle cramping.
Diseases in the body’s systems. Digestive system disorders can be traced to kidney problems. Because of renal failure, the person may start to experience thirst, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, gastrointestinal bleeding and other symptoms related to the digestive system.
Heart problems can also arise because of malfunctioning kidneys. Blood pressure will gradually increase and will end up in hypertensive conditions. The presence of toxins, excess water, an imbalanced electrolyte condition will contribute to some cardiovascular disease.
The circulatory system will as well be affected. When the kidneys start to fail, there will be a decrease in the production of erythropoietin, the hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. With the decrease of RBCs, oxygen levels in the blood also decrease.
Experiencing headaches, memory loss, poor concentration, fatigue and more are signals that the nervous system is also being attacked when renal failures happen. Patients will also have difficulty sleeping. They will have bouts of mental confusion and muscle tremors and other symptoms associated with the nervous system.
Even the respiratory system is not spared. Symptoms of renal failure associated with the respiratory system include paroxysmal spasmodic cough, difficulty in breathing, pulmonary edema, and more. Such occurrences can lead to more severe conditions like a cardiac failure.
Reducing the Risk of Kidney Failure
Like everything else that happens in the human body, there are ways to reduce the risk of diseases, particularly those associated with kidney failure. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and a history of renal failure in the family put many at risk of developing kidney problems. Just because one doesn’t belong to any of these categories should not mean that he can employ unhealthy habits. All the body’s organs should not be taken for granted and should be given the proper care they deserve. After all, if one serves them, they will give you no problems.
Here are some pointers that could help keep the kidneys in perfect health, so they can function properly.
- Keep hydrated, but not excessively. No research has shown that over-drinking is beneficial to the body. Drink just enough water, the usual six to eight glasses a day. More than that, may or may not be good for the kidneys in doing their filtration job properly.
- Eat healthy foods. The kidneys are a strong pair and can endure different types of dietary habits. But according to some doctors, kidney failures are more a result of different medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. What people must do is concentrate on how to avoid such conditions. Follow healthy eating habits to regulate blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight. Preventing high blood pressure and diabetes will surely keep the kidneys in prime condition.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can prevent weight gain as well as high blood pressure. This routine work should be coupled with good eating habits for maximum benefits. But always note that the body should be conditioned to the physical strain it will be subjected to. If one isn’t physically fit, exercise can do more damage than good as this will involve the breaking down of muscle tissue and putting more strain on the kidneys.
- Be careful when taking herbal remedies and supplements. Don’t abuse the use of vitamins, herbal extracts, and supplements. Excessive dosages can harm the kidneys. To be on the safe side, consult with the doctor about supplements if planning to take them.
- Quit smoking. Smoking has been proven to have many undesirable effects on the body. About kidney problems, smoking can do damage to the blood vessels which will result in the decrease in blood flow to the kidneys. Without the adequate flow, kidneys will not function efficiently. Other disorders one can get from smoking are increased blood pressure and a higher risk of cancer.
- Don’t take too many over-the-counter medications. Be wary of the effects of over-the-counter medications. True, they are a quick way to reduce pain but taken regularly for long periods might lead to kidney damage. For people with healthy kidneys, taking these medications can probably pose no risk. However, for those who suffer from chronic pain like arthritis, it’s good advice to consult with the doctor about keeping track of kidney health and perhaps find other alternatives to control arthritic pain.
A routine check-up of the kidney’s functions or health is required for people suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes. This is to ensure the proper treatments if positive findings on kidney problems should occur.