Five questions you hadn’t thought to ask about your kidneys
Written by Dr Catherine Hyatt
, 5 min read
Have you spent much time thinking about your kidneys? Probably not. Compared to the blood- pumping heart or the breathtaking lungs, kidneys don’t get a huge amount of airtime…
…but they should! They are a vital organ and looking after your kidneys could help you stay well for longer.
In this blog, I really wanted to go back to (kidney) basics as well as exploring a common condition which can affect them called Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
What do they actually do?!
Kidneys are hard workers. Whilst we are going about our day, they are doing a whole load of different things to keep our bodies running like a well-oiled machine. These include:
- Filtering the blood: Very simply, unfiltered blood goes into the kidneys and filtered blood comes out. This is how the body gets rid of waste products which would become dangerous if they built up unchecked in the body.
- Regulating salt and water content: The kidneys are also constantly keeping track of the amount of salt and water in our bodies. Any excess is then removed from the body as urine along with the waste products we just talked about.
- Producing hormones: Including one (called renin) which helps control your blood pressure and another (called erythropoietin) which regulates the production of red blood cells.
- Looking after your bones: Kidneys convert the Vitamin D you get from the sunlight or your diet into an active form. This means it can get on with its job of regulating the calcium and phosphate levels in the body. This is important for bone and muscle health as well as your teeth.1
Where are they?
You generally find your kidneys on either side of the body under your ribcage. They look like a kidney bean and are the size of your fist.
Although many people are born with two kidneys, you can actually survive and thrive with only one (functioning!) kidney. This is why it is possible for some people to donate one of their kidneys to someone experiencing kidney failure.3
What is CKD?
Chronic Kidney Disease is a really common condition that you may not have even heard of.
If you have CKD, it means your kidneys are not functioning as well as they could. It is a long term condition and can (although not always) get worse over time. In the most serious of cases, the kidneys may even stop working completely and dialysis or kidney transplant may be needed.
You would expect to know if you had a chronic disease right? Well, that may not be the case as many people with CKD do not experience symptoms early on in their disease. This is partly because the kidneys are so good at what they do and can still manage to do their job, even if there has been a marked reduction in their function.4
In the UK, more than 1.9 million people have CKD and that’s only the people who have been diagnosed with this. It is thought that in the UK alone there are another million people who have CKD and don’t know about it.5
In the US, 15% of adults are estimated to have CKD, which adds up to about 37 million people!6
What can I do about it?
If this is all starting to seem a bit scary then please don’t panic. Many people have CKD and are able to live the life they want to. There are also ways of keeping your kidneys as healthy as they can be as well as simple tests you can do with your healthcare team to help pick up any changes early.
Everyone should look after their kidneys as much as they can but if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of CKD, it’s even more important for you to keep an eye on this as there is a higher chance of developing CKD.1
Keeping well hydrated, cutting out smoking, getting your body moving and reducing your weight can all be ways of protecting your kidneys (as well as part of an all round healthy lifestyle).6
Eating a balanced diet and reducing your salt intake can also be a helpful step. We understand this can be difficult to do alone so have a read here of helpful tips for getting change rolling from Babylon Dietitian Andrea McGrew.
What can we do to help?
Babylon is here to support you and your kidney health. If you have any concerns about this, have a chat with one of our clinicians. We can talk through any questions you may have, from how your medications may be affecting your kidneys to tips on how to support any lifestyle changes you want to make.
We can also help you access some simple tests which can help check your kidney function and monitor it as needed. This can be done by blood and urine tests in the first instance.
So what are you waiting for? Take the time to think about your kidneys today.
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1. Information for the Public, Think Kidneys, February 2017, https://www.thinkkidneys.nhs.uk/ckd/information-for-the-public/
2. Your Kidneys & How They Work, NIH, June 2018, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work
3. Living with one kidney, NHS Blood and Transplant, Accessed April 2022, https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/become-a-living-donor/donating-your-kidney/living-with-one-kidney/
4. Chronic Kidney Disease, NHS, August 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-disease/
5. Fingertips Public Health Profiles, Public Health England, 2020/2021 time period, https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/search/ckd
6. Chronic Kidney Disease Basics, CDC, February 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/basics.html#:~:text=Top%20of%20Page-,Kidney%2DFriendly%20Tips,weight%20if%20you're%20overweight.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.