Take care of your kidneys, the body's detox superheroes

March 27, 2018
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  • There is no cure for kidney disease at this time.
  • Preventing kidney disease, especially for people at high risk, boils down to a few simple tests 
  • Almost ready: Wearable dialysis machines. Further out: 3D Organ bioprinting 

Unsung heroes, our kidneys are largely ignored until there’s a problem.  Here’s a quiz. 

True or False: 

1. Kidneys perform all of these functions
  • Remove waste products from the body
  • Remove drugs from the body
  • Balance the body's fluids
  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • Produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones
  • Control the production of red blood cells

2. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is reversible with current medical technology. 

3. Early stage kidney disease often has no symptoms. It is a silent disease that often goes undetected until it has advanced.

How well do you think you did? 

Answers to the first and third questions are true. Number two is false. There is currently no cure for CKD, nor can kidney disease be reversed. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that “Each year, kidney disease kills more people than breast or prostate cancer. In 2013, more than 47,000 Americans died from kidney disease.”

As it relates to question number one, some people think that “detoxing” regimens are a necessary way to rid our bodies of wastes. But our kidneys (and liver) do the detoxing for us. We don’t have to spend money on “detoxing agents.” It’s simpler (and better) to have your blood and urine tested to make sure your kidneys are “detoxing” properly. 

Vijay Vidyasagar, MD, a specialist in nephrology (kidneys) at the Swedish Organ Transplant and Liver Center says, “I would like to see everyone have their blood pressure taken, and their urine and blood analyzed annually starting at age 18. We could identify people with the beginnings of kidney failure, and help them avoid the later stages of this irreversible disease if we catch it early.” 

Preventing kidney disease

According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in three American adults is at risk for kidney disease. The major risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, a family history of kidney failure, and being over 60 years old.  Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for these easy, simple tests: 

Urine test

Ask your doctor about Albumin Creatinine Ratio (ACR), which estimates the amount of a type of protein, albumin, in your urine. This protein should be in the blood not in the urine.

You could use an over-the-counter “dipstick” to test your own urine or use the dipstick between doctor’s visits if you’re concerned. Of course, you should always ask your doctor to perform and read a diagnostically suitable urine test. 

Blood test

The Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) tells how well your kidneys are working to remove wastes from your blood. A reading of over 90 is good; 60-89 should be monitored; less than 60 for three months indicates kidney disease.

Check your blood pressure and blood sugar level, too 

As it relates to diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension), Dr. Vidyasagar says, “Preventing the onset of these diseases is often tied to lifestyle, and we are basically back to the fundamentals for good overall health: watch your diet and your weight, monitor salt intake, and exercise five times a week.” As for aging, and family history, he says, “Our organs age as we age and lose their effectiveness. That’s why taking care of our bodies and all our organs is important, but it also means older people and genetically at-risk folks need to be especially careful to have their blood pressure, blood, and urine tested on a regular basis.” Here’s why: High blood pressure and diabetes reduce kidney function.

Kidney disease and high blood pressure: Uncontrolled hypertension can damage the walls of the kidney’s blood vessels and other blood vessels throughout the body. If that happens, the kidneys will be degraded in their ability to filter waste products in the blood. 

Kidney disease and diabetes: The kidneys filter and clean about 50 gallons of blood every day. When blood sugar is high (as with diabetes) the kidneys have to filter more blood than normal. Over time, the kidneys’ tiny filters start to leak, weakening the entire cleaning and balancing services the kidneys perform to keep the body healthy.

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Failure 

(Other disorders may share symptoms with these. Always check with your doctor.)

Poor appetite

Vomiting

Headache

Bone pain

Insomnia

Dry skin

Fatigue with light activity

Itching

Muscle cramps

High urine output or no urine output

Urinary incontinence

Pale skin

Bad breath

Hearing problems

Poor muscle tone

Irritability

Change in mental alertness

Metallic taste in mouth

Treating end stage kidney (renal) disease

Many of Dr. Vidyasagar’s patients may have reached End Stage Renal Disease, or ESRD, in which case they must have dialysis sometimes up to three times a week or a kidney transplant for their blood to be filtered correctly. 

  • Some people go to a dialysis center (clinic or hospital) to have their blood filtered where they are hooked up to a machine and their blood is clarified of impurities. These visits may take two to three hours. 
  • Another options is to have an in-home blood filtering system in which the patient hooks up to the machine overnight. 
  • A third new way is a Wearable Artificial Kidney (WAK) dialysis machine, which is not yet fully successful, but progress is being made toward allowing people to move about while having their blood filtered at the same time.  
  • Meanwhile, experiments in 3D organ bioprinting have led companies to partial success but it’s still very early. 

Kidney transplants

Swedish continues to help patients from all over the world with kidney transplants as part of its pioneering organ transplant program, advising families on ways to handle life with kidney disease until a donor can be found, and on through to transplant and life after. More than 2,000 kidney transplants have been performed by Swedish surgeons over the past two decades.

“Transplants are about 90 percent successful these days. We help people lead normal lives again with someone else’s organs; it’s gratifying to have the opportunity to help them integrate back into their communities,” Dr. Vidyasagar says. Watch his video and learn more about the extraordinary care provided by the transplant experts at Swedish. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.