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Managing Your Kidney Function, Conditions, Symptoms, and Treatment.

Kidney Function

The kidneys are bean-shaped and fist-sized vital organs in the human body. Found on each side of the spine at the bottom of the rib cage above the waist. The kidneys are the body’s detox organs, filtering toxins out of the blood through urine. A lack or loss of kidney function causes kidney failure, damage, infection, and other serious health complications.

How the Kidneys Work

The kidneys filter around 180 liters of blood and remove about 2 liters of toxins every 24 hours. This is how it works;

Blood goes into the kidneys through an artery from the heart.

In the kidneys, the blood passes through the arteries that branch into tiny vessels where they meet the nephrons.

Each nephron has a glomerulus and a tubule; the glomerulus filters your blood, and the tubule returns needed substances to your blood and removes wastes.

Each kidney has over a million nephrons that sift through and filter blood.

The cleaned blood is returned to the bloodstream through the veins.

Toxins and waste are removed from the body through urine.

Kidney Functions

The kidneys perform important functions for the blood, cells, hormones, and bones in the body. These functions include; 

  • Removing waste and excess fluids 
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Produce and release hormones that affect other organs’ functions 
  • Regulating hormones
  • Balancing body fluids and minerals
  • Keeping bones healthy 
  • Production of red blood cells. 

Kidney Problems

There are many terms and health issues that can result in the kidneys not functioning the way they should. Other health conditions can affect the health of these organs. For instance, high blood pressure and diabetes are leading causes of kidney problems, these include;

  • Kidney infections
  • Kidney stones 
  • Kidney scarring
  • Kidney disease 
  • Kidney failure

Kidney Conditions

Kidney disease is when the Kidneys get damaged and are unable to function properly. The kidneys can completely stop working if their condition becomes worse over time. If the kidneys do fail, it is because of a gradual loss of their ability to function. High blood pressure and diabetes put you at a higher risk of getting kidney disease.

Wastes and excess fluid are removed from your blood by healthy kidneys. However, if your kidneys are not functioning well, toxins and excess fluid can accumulate in your blood and make you sick.

Types of Kidney Conditions

Such conditions can be the result of lifestyle, infection, or genetic disorders. Some can be resolved while others need to be managed. 

Kidney Infection

Kidney infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI), it is when bacteria or viruses cause an infection in one or both of your kidneys. As the kidney removes waste products and extra fluid, these go through the ureters (thin tubes on each kidney that carry urine to the bladder) and leave the body through the urethra when urine is passed.

These body parts; the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, form the urinary tract. Urinary tract infection is the most common type of kidney infection. If you get a UTI, the bladder gets infected first, bacteria can then travel up your ureters, then kidney infection will follow.

If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems. Bacteria or viruses from other parts of the body can also cause infection in the kidneys. An infection in the kidney is called pyelonephritis and an infection of the glomeruli is called glomerulonephritis.

Symptoms

Symptoms and signs of a kidney infection may include;

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shivers
  • High temperature
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Side/flank pain
  • Groin/area around the genitals pain
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Strong and constant urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Blood or pus in the urine
  • Smelly or cloudy urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling sick

Treatment

The first thing you would need to do is get a diagnosis that you do indeed have a UTI. A doctor will then be able to prescribe the appropriate antibiotics for treatment. Normally, symptoms will begin to clear up in a few days of taking oral medication. Even if the signs disappear, it is important for you to complete your antibiotic course. Your doctor may request you to take another test to check if the infection has cleared. If not, you will have to start another course of antibiotics.

If the kidney infection is severe, you will need to be hospitalized. There you can receive treatment like antibiotics and fluids through the vein in your arm. In some cases, a person would need surgery to help deal with the infection.

Complications

It is possible for kidney infection to cause other health complications. These issues can come up if the infection is not treated. The more times you would get a kidney infection, the higher the chances of experiencing complications. These can include;

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney failure
  • Kidney scarring
  • Kidney disease

Book a General Health Check-up today to assess your kidney function among other important tests.

Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a clumping together of crystals that are made from chemicals in the urine. Urine contains calcium, potassium, oxalate, uric acid, and phosphate. If the levels of these compounds get too high, they clump together and form these crystals. If not resolved, they can grow over days, weeks, or even months to form kidney stones. Kidney stones can form in the urinary tract – kidney, ureters, bladder, and urethra. 

A kidney stone can be formed and go undetected until it starts to move. The edges of the stone scratch the edges of the urinary tract. This can be extremely painful and also cause bleeding (resulting in blood in urine when you pee). A big enough kidney stone can even cause a blockage leading to urine building up causing infection and damage to the kidneys. Smaller kidney stones can pass through on their own.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are four main types of kidney stones, each made up of different crystals and compounds. These include;

1. Calcium stones

The most common type of kidney stones. Made up of calcium oxalate and sometimes calcium phosphate compounds. Inadequate calcium, water, and too many oxalate-rich foods can cause this type of kidney stone.

2. Uric Acid

This type of kidney stone occurs when the urine is too acidic. The acid level in urine can be increased by the chemical compound, purines. Animal proteins such as meats, shellfish, and fish contain high levels of purines. Uric acid kidney stones can also be a complication of gout, diabetes, and obesity.

3. Struvite

Struvite stones are common in people who have UTIs (urinary tract infections). These stones can grow to be quite large, obstructing the flow of urine. Treating UTIs can prevent the development of struvite stones.

4. Cystine

These are the rarest types of kidney stones. It is a genetic condition that runs in families.

Symptoms

  • Severe pain in the lower back area
  • Blood in urine
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Smelly urine
  • Discolored urine
  • Urinating in small amounts
  • The constant need to urinate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever

Causes

  • Drinking too little water
  • Eating food with high levels of salt or sugar
  • Eating food that has high levels of chemical substances that form the stones (e.g. meat and fish)
  • Obesity
  • Exercising too much or too little
  • Genetic conditions

Treatment

Treatment of kidney stones involves different methods for you to pass the stone. Therefore, it depends on what the stone is made of, type of stone, size, and location as well as the symptoms being experienced and the patient themselves. The treatment options are as follows;

Medication – can be used to dissolve the stone, reduce mineral levels in urine, or relax the ureter so the stone can pass easily.

ESWL – extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy is the use of sound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces so it can pass easily.

Surgery

Glomerulonephritis – gloe-MER-u-loe-nuh-FRY-tis

The glomeruli is the part of the kidney that filters blood. Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney condition where there is damage to this part of the kidney. With this condition, the kidneys have a hard time filtering waste and fluid. This can cause many serious health issues and Glomerulonephritis itself can lead to kidney failure.  

This condition can either start suddenly – acute glomerulonephritis or start slowly and be present for a while as chronic glomerulonephritis.

Causes

Glomerulonephritis can be caused by;

Bacterial infections that cause throat and skin infections (strep or staph bacteria)

  • HIV
  • Hepatitis B & C
  • Toxins or medicines
  • Autoimmune conditions like Lupus

Symptoms

It is common for people with glomerulonephritis to not experience any signs or symptoms. However, symptoms can include;

  • Pink, red or brown urine (caused by blood in the urine)
  • Foamy urine 
  • Urinating less or more than normal
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Swelling in the legs or feet

Acute Kidney Injury

Acute kidney injury is the abrupt and significant reduction in kidney functioning. This sudden kidney failure or damage will affect the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the blood. Acute kidney injury is also known as Acute Renal Injury or Acute Kidney Failure. The decrease in function can occur over a few days, however, the condition is completely reversible.

It is possible to have no signs or symptoms of acute kidney injury. Preventative testing like General Health check-ups and screening like kidney function tests are essential.

Symptoms

  • Swelling in ankles, feet, or legs (sometimes around the eyes) is commonly caused by fluid retention
  • Urinating in small amounts
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Seizures or coma in severe cases
  • Chest pain or pressure

Causes

There are 3 main reasons why the kidneys would have an abrupt and significant reduction in functioning.

1. Blockage of blood flow to the kidneys which can be the result of;
  • an infection
  • overuse of pain or flu medications 
  • blood pressure medications
  • severe burns
  • dehydration
  • sepsis
  • heart attack, heart failure, and other disorders that cause heart function to deteriorate
  • organ failure (liver or heart failure)
  • blood loss – serious bleeding
  • fluid loss – extreme diarrhea

Book a General Health Check-up today to check your kidney function.

2. Urine blockage and build up in the kidneys which can be caused by;
  • kidney stones
  • cancer (cervical, bladder, prostate, colon) 
  • blood clots in the urinary tract
  • damage to the nerves in the bladder
3. Direct damage to the kidneys;
  • the complications of another disease (diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure)
  • infections
  • blood clots
  • cholesterol deposits

Treatment

The main goal of treatment is to address whatever is causing the acute kidney injury. Efforts will be focused on treating symptoms and complications until the kidneys can recover. A person may need dialysis but it is not always necessary and it will be temporary. Dialysis is the process of diverting blood out of the body so it can be filtered in a machine.

Complications

  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • End-stage renal failure
  • Heart damage
  • Nervous system damage 

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease develops when a disease or condition decreases kidney function causing kidney damage to worsen over a period of months or years. Advanced chronic kidney disease can result in dangerously high fluid, electrolyte, and waste levels in the body. Though this condition is not reversible, it can be managed and people are able to live long lives. 

Symptoms

A person can experience few to no signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease in its early stages. Without preventative testing or regular health screening, it is possible to only discover that you have chronic kidney disease when the condition is in its advanced stage.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Sleep problems
  • Puffiness around the eyes
  • Urinating more or less
  • Confusion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Swelling of legs, feet, and ankles
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Cloudy urine

Causes

Diseases and conditions that can lead to chronic kidney disease include;

  • Diabetes (Type 1 & 2)
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis – causes damage to the kidneys’ filtering units
  • Polycystic kidney disease – an inherited kidney disease
  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract – kidney, ureter, and bladder
  • Autoimmune diseases (eg Lupus)
  • Kidney stones
  • Prostate, cervical, colon, and other cancers
  • Recurring kidney infections

Treatment

To treat chronic kidney disease, the focus will be on controlling symptoms and health conditions that are the result of chronic kidney disease. Treatment can include;

1. Medications for;
  • High blood pressure
  • Relieving swelling
  • Treating anemia
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • To protect your bones
2. Dialysis
3. Kidney transplant

 

Complications

If the kidneys are unable to perform their vital functions, the body will be negatively affected. Chronic kidney disease can lead to further serious health issues, these can include;

  • Heart disease
  • Bone disease
  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Fluid build up in the body

Book a General Health Check-up today and know the state of your kidneys.

Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease has five stages which are based on how the kidneys are doing in filtering waste and excess fluid out of the blood. As the stages progress, this represents the worsening of kidney disease and kidney function. The goal at each stage is to slow down the damage to the kidneys.

In stages 1, 2, and 3, the kidneys are still able to filter out waste. For stages 4 and 5, the kidneys work harder to filter the blood and can even stop working completely. To avoid progressing to further stages, lifestyle changes and medical intervention can be very useful.

Estimated glomerular filtration rate – eGFR is a blood test that is used to assess how well the kidneys are working. Screening using urine can also be used. The results of this test are used to determine the stage of chronic kidney disease in a person. 

Stage 1 of Chronic Kidney Disease

In this stage, there is mild damage to the kidneys and they are still working well. You may not even experience any signs and symptoms. In this stage, it is possible for the damage to your kidneys to not be reversible. A telling sign of stage 1 chronic disease is the presence of protein in the urine. 

Symptoms

  • Protein in the urine (foamy, frothy, or bubbly urine)
  • Blood in urine
  • Swelling in hands or feet
  • High blood pressure
  • UTI

Treatment

The focus will be on keeping your kidneys working well for as long as possible. This will involve treating symptoms or the cause of the kidney damage. 

  • If you have diabetes you will need to control your blood sugar.
  • If you have hypertension, keep your blood pressure at a normal range.
  • Assess if there is a need for or to avoid medications.

Stage 2 of Chronic Kidney Disease

Stage 2 has a lower eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) than stage 1 though they are similar. There is mild damage to your kidneys but they are still working. The damage to the kidneys may not be reversible but there it is possible to slow down further damage. You may not even notice any changes to your health. Protein in urine is also characteristic of this stage. 

Symptoms

You may not have any signs and symptoms at this stage. Here are some that you may notice;

  • Protein in the urine (foamy, frothy, or bubbly urine)
  • Blood in urine
  • Swelling in hands or feet
  • High blood pressure
  • UTI

Treatment

The goal will be to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible for as long as possible. This will entail addressing the symptoms as well as the underlying cause of the kidney disease.

  • If you have diabetes, you must keep track of your blood sugar levels.
  • Maintain a normal blood pressure level if you have hypertension.
  • Determine whether or not drugs are required or should be avoided.

Stage 3 of Chronic Kidney Disease

Stage 3 is normally where symptoms start to show. There is mild to moderate damage to your kidneys and they are not functioning as they should. The kidneys are working well enough that you do not need a transplant or dialysis.

However, the damage is probably not reversible and you will have to manage it for the rest of your life. This can cause waste and fluid to build up and cause you further health issues. 

Symptoms

The kidneys are not working at an optimal level to filter fluid and waste from the blood. The build-up in the body that will result from this is dangerous. The signs and symptoms that can be experienced are;

  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Bone disease
  • Foamy urine
  • Urine that is darker than usual
  • Urinating more or less
  • Weakness 
  • Tiredness
  • Itchy and dry skin
  • Swelling in hands, legs, ankles, or feet
  • Lower back pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restless leg syndrome

Treatment

In stage 3 of chronic kidney disease, treatment will normally involve different medications for symptoms and causes. These can include;

  • Diabetes medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Medications or supplements for bone strength
  • Anemia medications
  • Medicine to help with the swelling

Kidney Failure

Damage to the kidneys can be so severe it leads to the kidneys completely stopping work. This is when 85% to 90% of your kidney function is gone. Kidney failure is not reversible but those affected can still live with appropriate treatment.

Stage 4 of Chronic Kidney Disease

Stage 4 is moderate to severe kidney damage. The kidneys are close to not functioning, it is the final stage before kidney failure. A person will probably need dialysis or a kidney transplant. The waste and fluid build-up in the body can cause the following complications;

  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Bone disease
  • Heart disease

Symptoms

The symptoms experienced in this stage are;

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Foamy urine
  • Darker urine
  • Lower back pain
  • Bad breath
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle cramps
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes

Treatment

Stage 4 of chronic kidney disease is close to kidney failure. The condition cannot be reversed but it can be managed. There are also efforts to slow down damage so it doesn’t progress to stage 5. The treatment options can be;

  • Medications
  • Dialysis
  • Kidney transplant

Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease

Stage 5 of chronic kidney disease is when the kidneys are close to or have already failed. They are no longer functioning as they should at all. The kidneys are severely damaged.  Kidney failure is also referred to as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). 

The failure of the kidneys to do their job will cause you complications. The build-up of waste and fluid in your body will make you feel sick and cause health problems. These can include;

  • Bone disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • High phosphorus
  • High potassium
  • Build up of acid in the body

Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Urinating a little or not at all
  • Foamy urine
  • Darker urine
  • Lower back pain
  • Bad breath
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle cramps
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes
  • Changes in the color of your skin

Treatment

At this stage the kidneys have failed, and the only two options for treatment are;

  • Dialysis
  • Kidney transplant
  • Medication for symptoms and causes can also be part of the treatment plan.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

These tips will not cure kidney disease. Always follow a doctor’s advice on how to manage or treat any type of kidney condition. Here are some suggestions to reduce discomfort while you recover from a kidney infection, you can;

  • Apply heat – you can place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen, back or side can ease pain or discomfort.
  • Use pain medicine – if your doctor has cleared you to use pain medication, you can use it to ease pain and discomfort.
  • Stay hydrated – drinking fluids can help flush bacteria from your urinary tract.
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol until your infection has cleared – such fluids can worsen the feeling of needing to urinate.

When to Take a Kidney Function Test

Kidney conditions may or may not show any signs or symptoms. If you do notice any of the following, it is time to take a kidney function test and see a doctor;

  • Pain so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
  • Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Pain accompanied by fever and chills
  • Blood in your urine
  • Difficulty passing urine

How to Avoid Damage to Your Kidneys

  • Live a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Eat food that is kidney-friendly.
  • Work with your doctor to manage diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Take all of your prescription medicines as your doctor or pharmacist tells you.
  • Regularly get a general health check-up to know the status of your health
  • Be active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Drink less alcohol. The healthy guidelines for drinking alcohol are: 

For men: No more than two drinks per day 

For women: No more than one drink per day

  • Quit smoking or using tobacco.

Book a General Health Check-up today and run the Kidney function test.

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