One of the most fascinating organs in the human body are the kidneys. These two bean shaped organs sit right below your rib cage on either side of your spine, serving as the body’s filtration system.
What do the Kidneys do?
The kidneys play a key role in the overall function of the body, filtering about a half cup of blood every minute and creating urine by removing wastes and extra water. Your kidneys also filter excess acid that is produced by certain cells, maintaining a balance of sodium, potassium, calcium and phosphorous. Kidneys are also responsible for certain hormones that regulate your blood pressure, create red blood cells and contribute to your bone health. When you really think about it, the kidneys have an immense amount of responsibility in keeping you healthy!
Each of your kidneys is made up of millions of nephrons, which are tiny filtration units that allow the kidney to carry out its functions. These nephrons decide what to filter back into your bloodstream, and the remaining waste becomes urine. In about 24 hours, the kidneys filter through 150 quarts of blood. Most of the blood is returned to the body, leaving only 1-2 quarts per day for urine.
What happens when things go wrong?
Some individuals may be familiar with end stage renal disease, a severe condition that can result in death. In people with this disease, hemodialysis is needed to filter the blood through the body due to the kidneys inability to carry out its function.
There are many causes of chronic kidney disease, ranging from genetics to lifestyle choices. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two common causes, however many people with chronic kidney disease were born with this condition and develop problems later in life. Certain drugs can also cause kidney failure, such as using over-the-counter medications for a longer period of time. Other causes include glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys filter units), urinary tract infections and polycystic kidney disease.
Treatment for kidney disease
So what can be done about chronic kidney disease, and especially end stage kidney disease? Besides hemodialysis, it is possible to be a candidate for a kidney transplant. The body is able to function with one kidney, and the donor will continue to live a healthy life. The body’s ability to give and receive an organ is truly spectacular. The blood type of the recipient does not have to match the donor, however additional medical treatment will be needed to prevent rejection of the kidney. Tissue typing and crossmatching are both further tests that help detect the success of the body accepting the kidney.
The procedure for the living donor is referred to as a nephrectomy, and most often it is done laparoscopically (small incisions where ports are used). This is ideal and allows for a quicker recovery. Small fiber-optic instruments are used during the procedure in order to dissect the kidney and safely prepare it for transplant. In the event that the procedure cannot be performed laparoscopically, a larger incision is made (5-7 inches) alongside the chest and upper abdomen in order to get the kidney out. The donor will recover after surgery within 1-2 days, and will follow guidance from their doctor regarding exercise, diet and medications.
For the recipient, their surgery is a bit more involved. The donated kidney is attached to blood vessels that are located in the abdomen, allowing the kidney to function and take on its new role. Following the transplant, the recipient is monitored closely for several weeks and may be given further medication if rejection is suspected. Most commonly the new kidney will start creating urine right away, however in some cases it may take several days to occur.
How do you keep the kidneys healthy?
Overall, your kidney is an extremely important asset to your body and serves as a reminder for the extraordinary things your body is capable of. As always, take care of your health and kidneys through hydration, nutrition and exercise. Kidney issues are not exactly “simple” fixes, so prevention is key when it comes to your kidney health.
Being healthy is a success that many people forget to celebrate
By: Nicole Cerrini BSN, RN
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