The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, located against the back muscles in the upper abdominal cavity just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. The kidneys are composed of millions of microscopic structures called nephrons. These nephrons are the kidney’s functional units responsible for detoxifying the blood by filtering out the waste products, which are then sent to the bladder to be stored and eventually passed out of the body through urine.
The kidneys are also tasked with the primary function of removing excess water from the body. They also help retain water when the body needs it more.
Moreover, the kidneys help maintain the optimal pH level as well as regulate the level of minerals like salt, potassium, calcium, and phosphate in the body. They also produce hormones responsible for important body functions, such as controlling blood pressure and the synthesis of red blood cells, which carry oxygen and important nutrients throughout the body.
Renal damage or kidney disease, hampers the ability of these vital organs to carry out these essential functions and results in the buildup of unwanted chemicals, electrolytes, and fluids in the body. Although fairly common, this loss of kidney function can progressively worsen and can even prove life-threatening at an advanced stage. End-stage kidney failure is largely incurable and can only be managed through dialysis treatment, wherein the purification of the blood is performed by a machine instead of the kidneys. Some people may resort to a kidney transplant.
Causes of Kidney Damage
Kidney damage can manifest itself in a number of different conditions, which include:
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD) – characterized by inadequate kidney functioning that persists for longer than 3 months.
- Acute kidney disease – a sudden and complete renal failure due to insufficient blood flow to the kidney, kidney impairment due to direct injury, or an accumulation of urine in the kidneys.
- Kidney stones – crystallization of minerals and other salts in the blood to form hard deposits within the kidney.
- Polycystic kidney disease – a genetic condition that leads to the formation of multiple fluid-filled cysts in the kidney that comes in the way of normal functioning.
- Glomerulonephritis – inflammation of glomeruli, the blood-filtering tiny structures inside the kidney.
- Pyelonephritis or advanced Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) – bacterial infections that spread progressively from the urethra and bladder and then to the kidneys at a later stage, if untreated.
These kidney diseases can stem from the following causes:
- Persistently high blood pressure can put an undue strain on the glomeruli or the small blood vessels inside the kidney responsible for cleaning the blood, resulting in kidney decline.
- Excessive blood glucose due to diabetes can also take a toll on the functioning of the glomeruli.
- High cholesterol can cause blood vessels to become clogged by fat deposits, thereby restricting adequate blood flow to the kidneys.
- Vesicoureteral reflux is a renal disorder that causes urine to back up into your kidneys.
- Kidney damage due to recurring kidney infections.
- Obstructions in the flow of urine caused by recurrent kidney stones or an enlarged prostate.
- Sustained use of certain drugs – such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen and IV street medications – and toxins such as lead poisoning can cause irreversible kidney damage.
- Autoimmune diseases can also end up targeting the kidney and causing significant damage.
- Prolonged viral illnesses like HIV Aids and hepatitis B and C can lead to renal decline.
The following conditions can increase your susceptibility of developing kidney diseases:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Being African, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian-American
- A family history of kidney disease
- Abnormal kidney structure
- Older age
Symptoms of Kidney Damage
Majority of the kidney diseases usually target the nephrons and remain undetected in their early stages. Since nascent kidney disease is devoid of any evident symptoms, it is only likely to be picked up via blood or urine tests that may be carried out for some unrelated problem but end up indicating a possible problem with your kidneys.
Some common symptoms include:
- Swelling in the ankles, feet or hands
- Shortness of breath due to fluid retention in the lungs
- A general feeling of being unwell
- Bloody urine or hematuria
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or burning sensation when you urinate
- Flank pains or sudden lower backache where the kidneys are located
- Feeling cold (most of the time)
- Sleep problems
- Bubbly (or frothy) urine
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Muscular twitches and cramps
- Change in color and quantity of your urine
- Persistent itching
- Chest pain arising from the pooling of fluid around the lining of the heart
- Unmanageable high blood pressure or hypertension
- Foul breath or metallic taste in the mouth
If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of kidney disease.
The main way to reduce the chances of developing CKD is to ensure that any existing conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are carefully managed.
Some lifestyle changes can also reduce the risk of developing CKD. These include the following:
- Keep your weight in check by eating a well-balanced and healthy diet.
- Avoid drinking excessive amount of alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Refrain from the overuse of painkillers and consult your doctor for safer alternatives.
- Work closely with your doctor to rein in any existing medical condition that may contribute to kidney damage.
When to See a Doctor
Kidneys have the ability to compensate for the loss of function resulting from various renal problems, and the symptoms only become apparent when the disease has entered a much more advanced and serious stage. Thus, it is paramount that you consult your doctor if you have even the slightest inkling that all is not well with your kidneys.
In case you have any pre-existing medical condition that is considered a risk factor for kidney disease and have family members that suffer from renal disorders, it is especially important that you get your blood and urine tested regularly by your doctor to assess if the kidney is functioning properly.
Apart from medical issues, there are many habits that can induce or accelerate kidney damage.
Habits that Damage Your Kidneys
Here are the top 10 habits that show how you are damaging your kidneys unknowingly.
1. Not Emptying Your Bladder Timely
Maintaining a full bladder for a long time or delaying the urge to urinate is one of the main reasons behind kidney damage.
When urine remains in the bladder for a long time, it can cause the bacteria breeding in urine to multiply. These harmful pathogens, in turn, pave the way for subsequent urinary tract infections or kidney infections. Moreover, retaining urine tends to overburden the kidneys, and the undue pressure can lead to renal failure and incontinence.
If you habitually delay responding to the call of nature, it’s time to mend your ways for the benefit of your kidneys. No matter how busy you are, listen to nature call signals and follow them.
2. Insufficient Water Intake
Inadequate water intake on a regular basis is often at the root of most of your renal problems. Water is the fuel that allows the kidney to carry out its primary function of flushing out metabolic waste from the body and regulating erythrocyte production.
The lack of sufficient water in the system causes blood to become increasingly concentrated and dense, and this translates to decreased blood flow to the kidneys. This, in turn, hampers the kidneys’ ability to eliminate toxins from the body, and the resulting buildup of toxins gives way to a number of health problems.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, a healthy adult must drink at least 8–10 glasses (8 oz glasses) of fluid daily to keep the kidney functioning at the optimal level and the body well hydrated. However, no need to shift to the other end of the spectrum by drowning your body with an excessive fluid intake. There is something as too much water, which can be just as hard on your kidneys as the lack of it. So, do not overdo it.
3. High Salt/Sodium Consumption
Regularly eating too much salt, or sodium, can also cause a significant amount of damage to your kidneys, in addition to other health problems. Sodium is one of the elements found in salt. The kidney metabolizes 95 percent of the sodium consumed through food.
When salt intake is high, the kidney needs to put in extra work to excrete the excess salt. In the long run, this added strain can lead to decreased kidney functioning, thereby causing water retention in the body. Water retention, in turn, can cause your blood pressure to shoot, which again reinforces the risk of developing kidney disease.
Studies have also shown that salt intake increases the amount of urinary protein, one of the major risk factors for developing kidney diseases.
The recommended amount of sodium intake figures somewhere around 2,300 milligrams a day, which is equal to about 1 teaspoon per day. Anything surpassing this can be harmful to your kidneys as well as your overall health.
4. Regular Use of Analgesics
Many of us have the habit of taking analgesics, such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), to control pain and reduce fever and inflammation. Excessive dependence on such medications or compulsive use can foster irreparable damage to different body organs, including the kidneys.
Research shows that NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) may reduce blood flow to the kidneys and deteriorate kidney functioning. Moreover, heavy or long-term use of over-the-counter NSAIDs can cause acute renal failure or chronic kidney disease known as Chronic Interstitial Nephritis. Permanent damage to the kidney can also occur, which could lead to the need for hemodialysis or the clearance of the toxins from the kidney with a machine.
If you already suffer from impaired kidney function, it becomes all the more crucial to steer clear of painkillers. If the need for an analgesic does arise, seek your doctor’s assistance in looking for the ideal choice or suitable and safer substitutes. Even with normal kidney function, analgesics should be used as directed by the physician, at the lowest dose possible and for the shortest time.
5. High Protein Diet
Protein is good for your health, but excessive consumption of red meat and other protein-based foods can increase the risk of developing kidney diseases.
One of the key roles of the kidney is to metabolize and excrete the nitrogen by-products of protein digestion. High protein intake increases the metabolic load of the kidneys by chronically increasing glomerular pressure and hyperfiltration. This, in turn, increases the risk of ensuing kidney problems.
So, limit your intake of red meat for the overall health of your kidney. Moreover, those who have kidney problems must avoid eating red meat as it can worsen their condition.
6. Drinking Excessive Alcohol
Drinking in moderation is fine, but excessive alcohol consumption can cause significant damage to your kidney. It has been shown that regular heavy drinking, more than 4 drinks per day, can double your risk of developing kidney disease, irrespective of your gender. This is primarily because alcohol is a toxin that puts a lot of stress on your kidneys and liver.
When you drink alcoholic beverages in high amounts, it causes uric acid to be deposited in renal tubules, leading to tubular obstruction. This, in turn, increases the risk of kidney failure. Moreover, alcohol works as a diuretic and causes dehydration, which disrupts the normal functioning of the kidney.
If you like to drink, then do it in moderation. An optimum amount is generally considered to be 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women and older people.
7. Smoking Cigarettes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is bad for almost every organ of the body, including the kidney. Several studies have shown the connection between smoking and kidney diseases.
In fact, smoking is a leading factor behind end-stage renal disease (ESRD), according to the American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP).)
Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate as well as reduces blood flow by constricting the blood vessels in the kidneys. It can even accelerate the loss of kidney functions and worsen existing kidney diseases.
Thus, there is absolutely no argument that can justify a habit as harmful as smoking, and one should swear off it as soon as possible. It might seem like a colossal task at first, but if you weigh the merits of quitting, it will give you the impetus to soldier on and accomplish this goal. Take help from friends, family members, or professionals to make the struggle a little easier.
8. Consuming Too Much Caffeine
When your caffeine consumption escalates to unhealthy degrees, it can cause a sudden increase in your blood pressure. This, in turn, puts a strain on your kidneys and can result in long-standing kidney damage if such consumption patterns continue.
In fact, according to a 2004 study published in The Journal of Urology, excessive caffeine consumption has significant implications for the development of kidney stones as it can increase calcium excretion in the urine.
Caffeine in moderate amounts will not cause health problems for most people. In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary with a study underway to demonstrate that moderate caffeine intake is actually beneficial and associated with lower risk of nephrolithiasis. Thus, drinking 1 to 2 cups of coffee or 3 cups of tea daily can actually prove counterproductive to kidney disease. When trying to maintain an optimum amount of caffeine in your system, it is essential to take into account and limit the intake of other sources of caffeine as well, like soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, cocoa, and some medications.
9. Ignoring Common Infections
Undermining common infections like urinary tract infections, bladder infections, cold, flu, pharyngitis, and tonsillitis among others, and allowing them to persist without proper care can prove detrimental to your kidneys.
In fact, people who have kidney disease often have a history of not resting when they are sick and getting easily dehydrated.
Without timely treatment, the bacteria or viruses responsible for these common infections can spread to the kidneys and cause considerable renal damage.
So, the next time you suffer from a common infection, get it treated quickly and properly. Take your antibiotics properly and don’t exert your body until you feel better.
10. Lack of Sleep
Due to busy lifestyles, many people ignore the importance of sleep. A sound sleep of 6 to 8 hours daily is important for your overall health.
It is when you take your nightly sleep that the organ tissues undergo a process of renewal. Needless to say, sleep disruption or lack of adequate sleeping hours, interrupt and hinder the tissue regeneration process, resulting in damage to the kidneys and all other organs.
Furthermore, studies suggest that sleepless nights may cause high blood pressure and an increased risk of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), both of which have negative implications for proper kidney function.
Try to adopt healthy sleeping habits and maintain a good balance between work and rest. This will greatly help protect your kidneys from health issues and allow you to live a full and healthy life.
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