How to keep your kidneys happy and healthy, By Dr. Rich Feldenberg
When things run smoothly, we tend to forget the importance of all the moving parts that make up our lives. Our kidneys are certainly no exception. We don’t think about how much they are doing for us each day until something goes wrong. The kidneys have the important task of keeping our internal environment constant. They maintain the precise chemical composition of the blood, and through their intricate architecture of filters and tubules, they regulate the right amount of water in the circulation and remove waste products from the blood. They also produce several important hormones, one of which keeps us from becoming anemic and another which activates vitamin D.
When our kidneys are working well, we don’t notice all the help they’re giving us, but when your kidneys become sick then it becomes obvious how important they are to maintaining a healthy life. Kidney failure can result in massive swelling from fluid retention, dangerous shift in your blood’s mineral balance, and the accumulation of toxins in the body. These problems can be fatal, and in some cases dialysis or kidney transplant is necessary for survival. Since dialysis and transplant are both major medical interventions, it is undeniably best to try to keep your kidneys healthy from the start.
What can you do to maintain good kidney health? While you have no control over your genetics, there are things you can do to help your kidneys continue helping you. Below are my recommendation for taking good care of your kidneys.
1. Drink plenty of fluids. While there is some controversy over exactly how much fluid is necessary to stay healthy, it is clear that low fluid intake is an important risk factor for kidney stones. In addition to causing a lot of pain, a kidney stone can cause a urinary blockage that could permanently damage kidney function. A daily fluid intake of around 2 liters or 67 ounces is often enough to minimize kidney stone risk.
2. Maintain healthy bladder habits. Those that hold their urine for long periods throughout the day and empty the bladder infrequently are at an increased risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs can cause permanent scars in the kidney and recurrent UTIs can lead to kidney failure. Emptying your bladder about every 3 hours during the day and making sure you empty completely each time can help cut your risk.
3. Avoid frequent use of medications that are known to be damaging to the kidney. The main over-the-counter medication in this category would be ibuprofen. This can cause a decrease in blood flow to the kidneys and can sometimes lead to kidney failure. There may certainly be times when ibuprofen is fine to use for pain or inflammation, but overuse puts your kidneys at risk. If necessary, use sparingly, follow the directions on the bottle, and take with lots of fluids. If your pain or inflammation is not improving, then get checked by your doctor.
4. Be sure your blood pressure is under good control. Chronic high blood pressure is a common cause for kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Get your blood pressure checked, and if it is high, be sure to follow your doctor’s diet, exercise, and medication recommendations.
5. Talk to your doctor right away if you have any symptoms that could suggest kidney problems or kidney failure. If you notice blood in the urine or swelling in the legs, you shouldn’t wait to seek medical care. Get regular check-ups and periodically have your urine checked for blood and protein. Have your blood pressure measured. If you have diabetes, take extra care to keep your blood sugar levels in check so you are less likely to suffer diabetic kidney disease.
Dr. Feldenberg is a pediatric nephrologist at St. Louis University School of Medicine. His science blog is http://darwinskidneys.wordpress.com
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