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Kidneys At Work

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The kidneys (adjective: renal) are two vital organs located at the back at either side of the spine. The pair of kidneys is responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids in the body. The kidneys remove waste products in the body and secrete several hormones necessary to control blood pressure and help in the production of red blood cells.

How does the kidneys work? Blood enters the kidneys from the heart through the artery and is cleaned by passing through millions of blood filters called nephrons. Waste materials filtered out by the nephrons passed through the ureter and is stored in the bladder as urine. Newly cleaned blood from the kidneys is returned to the blood stream through the veins minus the waste materials.

When the body does not excrete enough water, salt and other substances, the volume of water in the body increases and tissues swell. If this happens, chances are the kidney is malfunctioning from inflammation, obstruction or other diseases. However, experts noted that if one kidney is lost or if both are partly damaged, the remaining renal tissue is usually strong enough to maintain the health of the person.

Kidney Troubles

Infection is the most common kidney disorder for people aged 50 years old and above. Most common of this type is the bladder infection with early symptoms of urgent and frequent urination. If infection ascends to the kidneys, in some cases, symptoms may or may not show.

Obstruction is another type of kidney disorder. These are kidney stones, cysts, prostate enlargement and other abnormalities. Kidney stones are hard deposits in the urinary tract while cysts are masses in the kidney that represent fluid-filled cavities. They obstruct urinary drainage and may harm surrounding tissues. Abnormalities in the urinary tract which may be congenital predisposes a person to obstruction.

Nephrosis is a condition where there is a large and abnormal leakage of protein in the urine. It is characterized by generalized swelling, puffy face and eyelids, bloated abdomen and swollen extremities.

Prolonged high blood pressure can cause a degeneration of the small artery in the kidneys and impair renal efficiency. This can be the start of a vicious cycle since damaged kidneys may worsen hypertension which in turn damages the kidneys.

Kidney diseases can be caused by inadequate supply of water and other liquids in the body, excessive intake of protein and calcium rich foods, exposure to chemicals, prolonged use of certain drugs, unchecked blood pressure and ignoring the urge to urinate.

Kidney diseases are not limited to the older generation. In fact, a high number of renal problems majority of which are urinary tract infection cases were seen in school children. The multisectoral Preventive Nephrology Project, spearheaded by the Department of Health and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), found a total of 1.1 million out of 4.7 million school children had abnormal urine findings.

Warning Signs

Kidney diseases are fatal if left untreated. It pays to know the warning signs if one is suspected to afflicted of the diseases.

Puffiness around the eyes (especially in children), gradual swelling of parts of the body usually the ankles, and low back pain are some of the symptoms of kidney diseases. The increased frequency of urination or changes in its pattern, unusual sensation whild urinating, bloody or tea-colored urine, anemia and high blood pressure are also included in the warning signs.

Any of these signs calls for the individual to have an immediate medical check-up to determine the severity of the disease and the corresponding treatment.

Initial tests include blood pressure determination, urinalysis, blood examinations, x-ray, ultrasound, and if necessary kidney biopsy.

Some kidney disorders can be cured at its early stage. Other treatment can relieve pain, retard the disease and prolong life. Some of the treatment for kidney disorder are:

  • regulate intake of salt, water and protein when the kidneys cannot do the job;
  • use of diuretics or drugs to increase urine flow;
  • use of antibiotics to prevent or limit damage to kidneys caused by bacteria;
  • use of steroids to relieve symptoms in many cases of nephrosis;
  • surgery to remove obstructions and correct birth defects.

Damaged Kidneys

When the kidneys are severely and permanently damaged, two options are available to the patient - repeated dialysis and renal transplantation.

Dialysis can be subdivided into two types namely hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis uses a machine that provides the "blood washing" which the kidney cannot perform. Peritoneal dialysis uses the peritoneal membrane as filters to cleanse the body of toxic wastes and corrects fluid and electrolyte imbalance. This method is simple and is performed at bedside without the use of elaborate equipment.

Renal transplantation uses two donor sources - the living-related donor or cadaver. A living-related donor is defined as a father, mother, sibling, son, daughter, cousin and other relatives. On the other hand, a cadaver is a person who is confirmed to have absence of brain activity. Living-related donors have a 90% chance of long term kidney function, while a cadaver has an 80% chance.

The cost of dialysis and transplantation remains to be one of the most expensive medical treatment.

Healthy Kidneys

Here are some tips to keep the kidneys healthy:

  • Drink 8 - 10 glasses of water or juice everyday.
  • Avoid excessive intake of protein and calcium rich foods.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals such as insecticides. poisons and solvents. These can damage the kidney cells.
  • Be aware of the drugs you use because prolonged use of certain drugs can be harmful to the kidneys.
  • Avoid and treat immediately infections such as sore throat, tonsilitis, pharyngitis. rheumatic fever and hemorrhagic fever which may produce progressive renal damage.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly.
  • Pay attention to draining wounds and burns. It may lead to a generalized toxic reaction or sepsis.
  • Be sure to receive the right blood during transfusion to avoid reactions which may precipitate renal complications.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Have a urinalysis two to three times a year.
  • Do not ignore the urge to urinate.


  • Donato Dennis B. Magat. Health Beat Magazine volume II no. 3. Department of Health of the Philippines. (Acessed on May 28, 2010).