The healthy balance of our body’s chemistry is largely due to the work of our two kidneys that are about the size of a fist and are shaped like beans. They are situated just above the waist in your back and are partly protected by the ribs. You can live a healthy life with only one kidney.
What do normal kidneys do?
- The kidneys get rid of the body’s waste products and excess water as urine. The waste products form from the breakdown of the protein we eat and from normal muscle activity.
- The kidneys also produce hormones that help in the production of red blood cells, build strong bones and help to keep blood pressure under control.
What causes kidneys to stop working?
- High blood pressure
- Chronic kidney infections
- Severe injury or birth defects
- Certain drugs and other kidney disease
Inside each kidney there are about one million tiny units called nephrons that filter and remove excess fluid and waste products from the blood. The entire body’s blood supply circulates through the kidneys every two minutes. The waste products and the fluid that are filtered out are excreted as urine. The urine travels through tubes, the ureters, into the bladder where it is stored and eventually passes out of the body through another tube called the urethra. If the kidneys fail then the harmful waste products build up in the blood, called uremia, and you feel ill.
Some of the signs and symptoms of kidney failure are:
- Extreme tiredness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty sleeping
- Swelling of hands, feet and face
- High blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
The kidneys and blood pressure
One of the most important functions of the kidneys is the control of blood pressure. High blood pressure, hypertension, is very common in people with kidney failure and can occur from the early stages of kidney damage. But it is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – high blood pressure can cause kidney failure but kidney failure can cause high blood pressure. As people with kidney disease have a significantly increased risk of heart disease compared to the general population, it is important that high blood pressure is treated.