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Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy

A young woman experiencing kidney pain grabs her lower back

by Dr. Matthew Toohey

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that sit in the back of your abdomen. They are incredibly important to your overall health. They filter toxins, chemicals, and other substances out of your bloodstream and turn waste into urine.

Since everything you ingest gets filtered through your kidneys, there are many ways you can damage them over time, like overusing medications. If your kidneys are damaged and not working properly, toxins build up in your body.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and are unable to filter properly. Diabetes and high blood pressure have a higher risk of developing kidney disease. Over time, kidney disease can lead to kidney failure.

Unfortunately, there are usually not many warning signs of kidney disease, and symptoms usually show up after the disease has progressed. Because the kidneys produce urine, this is where symptoms most often appear. The urine can be cloudy, bloody, or show other abnormal signs like an increase or decrease in volume. Other symptoms may include swollen legs, itchy skin, and generally feeling ill.

Though kidney disease doesn’t have a cure, we can often slow the progression and treat the symptoms depending on the cause. For example, there are medications that can treat high blood pressure and swelling. Advanced kidney disease often requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Other Kidney Conditions

Kidney stones occur when urine has a buildup of salts and minerals. This can be caused by not drinking enough water, exercising too much, or eating food with too much salt or sugar. Though passing kidney stones may be extremely painful, they usually do not cause any long-term damage.

Kidney infections are a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are generally caused by germs getting into the kidneys or related areas of the body, like the ureters, bladder, and urethra. Untreated kidney infections can lead to damage to the kidneys. Treatment usually includes antibiotics.

How to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Annual visits with your primary care physician (PCP) are essential, especially if you have a family history of kidney disease. When your PCP is familiar with your lifestyle and family history, they can be on the lookout for kidney disease or other kidney conditions. If you’re at risk of developing kidney disease, be sure to get tested at your annual PCP visit.

Your lifestyle habits are the best ways to support your kidney health. Maintain a healthy weight, stay active, quit smoking, and take your medications as directed by your PCP. Eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as choosing foods that are lower in salt, can also help.

Just like the rest of your vital organs, your kidneys are supported by a healthy diet and active lifestyle. These habits go far beyond individual areas of your body and can keep you healthy for years to come.

Dr. Matthew Toohey is the Network Medical Director for AmeriHealth New Jersey.