About Your Kidneys
Kidneys are small bean-shaped organs located in the middle of the back. Their primary function is to help regulate and filter the body’s blood. In doing so, kidneys ensure healthy levels of chemicals in the blood and help maintain strong bone health. Most people have two kidneys, but it is possible to live a healthy active lifestyle with just one. When kidneys don’t work properly for an extended period of time, one may begin experiencing CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease).
Causes of CKD
There can be many factors that contribute to CKD, including:
- Type I or II Diabetes/high blood sugar - damages organs such as the kidneys
- High blood pressure - damages blood vessels, making the kidneys less efficient at filtering the blood
- Frequent/extended use of pain relievers/NSAIDS (ex: Advil, Aleve, Tylenol) - weakens the kidneys
- Diseases that impact your immune system
- Inherited conditions
- Prolonged obstruction of urine flow
Self-diagnosing is difficult as you likely won’t know if you have CKD until your kidneys are close to failing. The best way to know if you have CKD is to have a health care provider perform blood and urine tests. Let your provider know if you have a known family history of kidney problems so they can perform tests regularly to make sure your kidneys are working properly. From your blood tests, your health provider will be able to pull an eGFR (Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate) number. This number helps determine how well your kidneys are working and what stage of CKD your body is in so your provider can start you with the appropriate treatment.
Stages of CKD
Stage 1 (Mild CKD)
- eGFR number: 90 or higher, but protein is found in urine
- Kidneys are working normally
You can manage stage 1 CKD by living a healthy lifestyle. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol, salt, and meat consumption. Also, be sure to manage your blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Additionally, avoid medications that can further damage your kidneys.
Stage 2 (Mild CKD)
- eGFR number: 60-89
- Kidneys are working well
Managing stage 2 CKD is similar to stage 1.
Stage 3 (Mild-Moderate CKD)
- eGFR number: 45-59 (Stage 3A), 30-44 (Stage 3B)
- Kidneys aren’t working as well as they should
As your CKD progresses to more moderate CKD, you may develop bone disease or anemia. Anemia is a condition where the blood lacks a healthy number of red blood cells. To combat this, increase your iron, calcium, and vitamin D intake, and reduce your potassium and phosphorus intake. You also may have symptoms such as feeling tired or weak, and you may experience swelling in your hands and feet. Be sure to live a healthy lifestyle, and continue monitoring your diet. You should meet with your doctor frequently, as well as consult a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and a dietician.
Stage 4 (Severe CKD)
- eGFR number: 15-29
- Kidneys are severely damaged
Stage 4 CKD is similar to stage 3, but swelling in your hands and feet is more likely. You may also notice changes in your energy levels, have trouble sleeping, and feel confused or irritable. Since this is the last stage before kidney failure, it is important to meet regularly with a nephrologist and make plans for treatments for possible kidney failure.
Stage 5 (Severe CKD)
- eGFR number: less than 15
- Kidneys are close to not working or stopped working (failure)
With the kidneys not performing their intended function, waste products can build up in your body and make you feel sick and cause other health problems. At this stage, dialysis can be performed. Dialysis is a cleansing of the blood as the kidneys are not doing their intended purpose. A kidney transplant can also be performed.
about the author
Growing up on both the West and East Coast, Tanner has seen how technology can bring people together. He believes that in doing so, we can collaborate with others and advance our health and lifestyle. In his free time, he loves to run, bike, hike, and play with his dog, Calvin.