Many South Africans totally underestimate the vital role their kidneys play and a lack of the appropriate kidney care can lead to kidney damage, disease and ultimately death. Celebrating National Kidney month this March, the Clinix Health Group hopes to raise awareness of just how important caring for your kidneys and avoiding kidney-related illnesses really is.
The kidneys, which are situated in ones back just above the waist, have the very important role of filtering and removing excess liquids and waste products from the blood. They also produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and create red blood cells – essential for keeping the body in working order. Humans can’t survive without these vital organs, however miraculously, the body can adapt to function normally with only one kidney, or if both are functioning only partially.
“Too many people ignore the close inter-relationship between kidney diseases and diabetes or hypertension. Worldwide millions of people suffer from diabetes and approximately one in 10 adults have some form of kidney damage,” says Dr. Albert Muranda, a Nephrologist at Clinix Health Group. “People who suffer from diabetes mellitus and hypertension, are obese or smoke, are within the 50/over age category or have a family history of kidney disease are more prone to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). However, education, screening and early detection are the answers to combating the disease.”
The kidneys have the remarkable ability to function almost normally despite there being a problem. That is why CKD can progress without symptoms for a long time until only very minimal kidney function is left. “However by looking after your kidneys and being aware of the possible symptoms, you could prevent the disease from progressing,” says Dr Muranda. “By visiting your local clinic or doctor and requesting simple blood and urine tests the disease can be diagnosed and treated in its early stages.”
So how can you take care of your kidneys? Dr Muranda recommends keeping fit and active as this reduces blood pressure. He also advices a regular blood pressure check and keeping sugar levels under control through good eating habits. “Reduce your salt intake. Try and limit the amount of processed food you eat and do not add salt to food. It will be easier to control your intake if you prepare the food yourself with fresh ingredients,” he says.
“Maintaining a healthy fluid intake is also important. Try drink around 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day. Stop smoking and avoid taking over-the-counter drugs such as anti-inflammatories, where possible. Such medications probably do not pose significant danger if your kidneys are relatively healthy and you use them for emergencies only, but if you are dealing with chronic pain, such as arthritis or back pain, work with your doctor to find a way to control your pain without putting your kidneys at risk.”
Dr Muranda offers the following list of symptoms that may be an indication of kidney disease:
- Fatigue and weakness (from anemia or accumulation of waste products in the body)
- Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
- Need to urinate frequently, especially at night
- Swelling of the legs and puffiness around the eyes (fluid retention)
- Itching, easy bruising, and pale skin (from anemia)
- Headaches, numbness in the feet or hands (peripheral neuropathy), disturbed sleep, altered mental status (encephalopathy from the accumulation of waste products or uremic poisons), and restless legs syndrome
- High blood pressure, chest pain due to pericarditis (inflammation around the heart)
- Shortness of breath from fluid in lungs
- Bleeding (poor blood clotting)
- Bone pain and fractures
- Decreased sexual interest and erectile dysfunction
“Kidney disease can also occur in children so make sure you look out for these signs and take your children for a check-up if you suspect there is a problem. Early detection is the best defense against kidney disease,” he concludes.