Today is World Kidney Day! In honor of this special day, I thought I would share my thoughts about kidneys and also raise awareness of kidney disease and failure. I worry about my kidneys a lot. Probably more than the average person (the average person might not even know what the kidneys do). This is because I have seen first hand how important they are to our overall health as a Registered Nurse.

Kidney Disease is a serious health problem that most people do not know about until it strikes them. If it weren’t for modern technology, people could not live with kidney failure. It is a very serious problem that most people don’t realize is such a problem until it is too late.

Kidneys are amazing but fragile

Kidneys are super filters of the bloodstream. They filter out toxins from the body. They also remove excess water from the body and ensure that electrolytes are in balance

Kidneys are made up of microscopic units called glomeruli. Because they are so small, they are also very fragile. Large molecules like protein and sugar are hard for them to process for extended amounts of time. High or low blood pressure also affects them. And the list goes on. Nearly every other medical condition affects the kidneys.

What causes kidney failure?

Diabetes and hypertension(high blood pressure) are the leading causes of kidney failure. There are also a lot of other risk factors for kidney failure. Drugs, NSAIDs(like Ibuprofen), cigarettes, drinking cola(really?!), UTI’s, kidney stones, intestinal disorders, advanced age, and the list goes on. As I already mentioned, many other medical conditions can affect the kidneys as well.

There Is NO cure

Yes, there are ways to manage kidney disease before it is “end-stage”, but once it is end stage a person must rely on “artificial kidneys” aka dialysis to survive. While this makes it possible to live, the quality of life of someone on dialysis is far worse than the average person. The kidneys are filtering your blood ALL day long. It is not possible for dialysis to be any match for a real kidney.

What is it like living with kidney failure?

From my experience, taking care of people with kidney failure, it is very hard living with kidney failure. I mean 2 of your vital organs are no longer doing what they are supposed to, and your body is not happy about it.

Their life surrounds upon dialysis

A person must have dialysis regularly in order to live. It is performed either nightly/throughout the day(at home) via the abdomen or 3 times a week for 3-4 hours(at a center) via the bloodstream. This is a time commitment! If they do not have their dialysis treatments regularly they will have serious problems often requiring hospitalization. Even with dialysis a person never feels “normal”.

They are often “fluid overloaded”.

As I mentioned the kidneys remove excess fluid from the body. When your kidneys aren’t working, this fluid instead builds up in your body. Sometimes it is around the lungs, sometimes it is in the feet/ankles and hands. Really, pretty much anywhere. This means that in order to keep the fluid from getting out of control, you may have to drink fewer fluids that a normal person.

Your blood pressure will become a HUGE issue(if it wasn’t already), because of this excess fluid. Your kidneys help regulate blood pressure, but when they aren’t working, it can go haywire.

They must follow a special diet to keep electrolytes in balance

This means low sodium and protein. Often times potassium and phosphorus must be limited as well. Potassium is very significant because when it is high or low, it can affect your heart causing dysrhythmias. What you eat directly affects the electrolytes in your system since you no longer have kidneys to regulate them.

You have an added appendage(sort of)

In order to receive dialysis, you must have some sort of access. I won’t bore you with details but you either have to have some sort of artificial catheter on your stomach or chest, or what called an arteriovenous fistula. Basically, it’s this funny blob on your arm that has its own pulse.

But what about kidney transplants?

Okay, the fact that you can have someone else’s organ in your body and have it work is incredibly cool. It comes with its own set of problems though. Remember your old friend, your immune system? Well, it doesn’t like that other person’s kidney. Once you have a kidney transplant you must take anti-rejection medications. These medications, essentially trick your immune system so that it won’t attack that new kidney. These are nasty medications that have a myriad of side effects. Also, it’s not good to suppress your immune system. It makes you susceptible to a whole host of bad illnesses. While many people go on to live, happy, mostly healthy lives, many are riddled with health problems that are possibly worse than before the kidney transplant. Oh and that transplant can’t last forever. The average is about 20 years, which is awesome, but not a lifetime by any means.

So, what’s the moral of the story?

Be aware of your kidneys! Pay attention to your bathroom habits. Get regular blood work at your doctor’s office. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you need to manage them, and monitor your kidneys more closely! While my worrying may be a bit excessive, it is helping me be more healthy and aware of my body. And yes, there are other, more serious health conditions. But kidney disease seems to be a very common problem that most are not aware of until it is too late. As a nurse, I feel like it is my responsibility to teach people the importance of taking care of our bodies. Stay tuned for another post about how we can keep our kidneys healthy. I am excited to be able to share this message about kidneys on World Kidney Day!



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