What Do Kidneys Do?
One of the main jobs of the kidneys is to filter the waste out of the blood.
How does the waste get in your blood?
Your blood delivers nutrients to your body. Chemical reactions in the cells of your body break down the nutrients. Some of the waste is the result of these chemical reactions and others is just stuff your body doesn’t need because it already has enough. The waste has to go somewhere; this is where the kidneys come in.
What Else Do Kidneys Do?
Kidneys are always busy. Besides filtering the blood and balancing fluids every second during the day, the kidneys constantly react to hormones that the brain sends them. Kidneys even make some of their own hormones. For example, the kidneys produce a hormone that tells the body to make red blood cells.
What is chronic kidney disease?
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to all conditions of the kidney, lasting at least 3 months, affecting the filtration and removal of waste from the blood by the kidneys (indicating kidney dysfunction), and/or leakage of protein or albumin in the urine (indicating kidney damage). CKD is common, costly and often detected too late to be reversible, but it is largely preventable because many of its risk factors—high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, overweight and obesity, and impaired glucose regulation—are modifiable (Kidney Health Australia 2019).
5 things you can do to look after your kidneys
- Watch out for signs of kidney disease
A person with kidney disease has progressive loss of function of their kidneys. Kidney disease is sometimes called a ‘silent disease’ because it often doesn’t cause symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly. It’s not uncommon for people to have lost up to 90% of their kidney function before experiencing symptoms of kidney disease.
Keep an eye out for the below signs and symptoms of kidney disease, and if you have any concerns, see your doctor.
Signs of reduced kidney function can include:
- high blood pressure
- change in how often you need to go to the toilet and how much urine you produce
- changes to your urine – for example frothy or foaming urine
- blood in your urine
- increased puffiness around your legs, ankles or eyes
- pain in the kidney area (lower back)
- tiredness and fatigue
- loss of appetite
- difficulties sleeping
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- nausea and vomiting
- bad breath and having a metallic taste in the mouth
- muscle cramps
- pins and needles in the fingers or toes.
Many of these symptoms are quite general or vague, and may point to other illnesses or conditions. It’s important to talk to your GP about how you’re feeling, so they can rule out kidney disease or other issues.
- Quit smoking
People who smoke are more likely to develop kidney disease and kidney cancer, so quitting now is a great step for your future kidney health. Quitting smoking has benefits for your entire body – find out more about how to quit with your GP
- Watch your blood pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for developing kidney disease, because it can cause damage to the arteries and blood vessels in and around the kidneys. Talk to your GP about testing your blood pressure regularly to make sure it’s at a healthy level.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may talk to you about ways to manage it, including:
- doing regular physical activity, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate activity each day
- moderating alcohol intake
- quitting smoking
- eating less salt
- eating a wide range of healthy foods and drinking plenty of water
- and reducing stress.
Some people with high blood pressure will need to take medication to manage their condition.
- Manage diabetes
According to Kidney Health Australia, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in Australia. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, speak with your doctor about how to manage your condition and monitor your kidney health.
- Drink water instead
Drinking water regularly throughout the day helps your kidneys to function properly and stay healthy.
Water is the best choice of fluid to drink throughout the day. It contains no kilojoules, salt or sugar, and is the natural way to hydrate your body. Mineral waters, cordials, fruit concentrates, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks can all contain high levels of salt and sugar, while drinks that contain phosphoric acid (often used in cola drinks and beer) might promote kidney stones. Keep these drinks for special occasions and reach for water instead when you’re thirsty during the day.
Keep in mind that feeling thirsty is the body’s first sign that you’re already dehydrated. Small, frequent drinks of water throughout the day will keep you hydrated. Remember to drink more water if you’re in a hot climate, exercising, breastfeeding or pregnant.
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