What are Kidneys For?

The size of your fist and the shape of a bean, your kidneys are your body’s filtration system. They make sure waste doesn’t build up in your blood, allowing you to function normally. Inside this curiously shaped organ are millions of tiny filtration agents, know as nephrons, which I think you’ll agree is a pretty cool name. Each nephron is in turn made up of a glomerulus and tubule. The glomerulus acts like sieve, allowing the smaller waste products and water to flow into the tubule. Water is then re-absorbed, allowing some water and the waste products to be passed as urine. Kidneys do other stuff too, like help control blood pressure, create red blood cells and maintain bone health. When they fail, waste products  slowly build up in the bloodstream, causing our blood to become toxic. The problem is compounded because symptoms can be very non-specific at first.

What happens when they fail?

The lists of symptoms when it comes to renal failure is long and depends on the type of kidney failure. I’m going talk about 

symptoms that go with Chronic Kidney Disease (which slowly gets worse, with symptoms appearing after severe damage has already been caused) and Acute Kidney Failure (which occurs suddenly with symptoms showing up relatively quickly). The following are examples of  symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease:

  • Nausea
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Abnormal amounts of urine production (too much or too little)
  • Swelling in feet and ankles

When it comes to acute kidney failure symptoms are more intense with typical examples of symptoms being:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Vomiting

For more complete lists of symptoms you can check out Healthline’s article on the subject or this MedicineNet article. The issue with the symptoms is that with many types of Renal Failure, they can be barely noticeable until a patient’s only option is dialysis.  Even worse are cases where the disease isn’t recognised until it’s too late. The best thing is to stay away from common causes, and if you have a family history of kidney failure, there are urine tests that can be done.

Why do they fail?

Our bodies are very well balanced systems, with the kidneys being a major part of of maintaining this balance. Being so integral, it generally takes a lot to send them out of whack, but modern lifestyle have made conditions kidneys never had to deal with, commonplace. The two main causes of end stage renal failure today are Diabetes and High Blood pressure, with obesity being a third contributor. These three conditions normally only lead to renal failure if left unchecked, and in many cases, can at least be controlled by a healthy lifestyle. Of course they can fail for many reasons, with this list outnumbering the symptoms list significantly in most sources I found. Causes can include:

  • Severe Dehydration
  • Heart Attack
  • Severe Blood Loss
  • Lack of blood delivered to the kidney
  • Kidney Trauma
  • Severe Infection such as Sepsis

What happens when they fail?

Unfortunately there are not many options when kidneys do fail. There are of course various stages, which while I will not go in detail on, I will say that Stages 1 and 2 are related to mild damage, so changing to a healthy lifestyle significantly helps slow damage. Stages 3 and 4 are where medication to treat underlying causes becomes necessary, with stage 5 being the most severe stage requiring blood dialysis and a transplant. Blood dialysis is the artificial filtration of blood, of which most local patients require 12 hours per week of. It is an invasive, painful and draining procedure that seriously negatively affects your quality of life. Transplants are somewhat more of a sustainable solution, but finding a good match can be very difficult. The procedure is also very invasive, and can leave psychological scars if after-care is not properly carried out. Kidney failure also recquires patients to follow a very strict low potassium, sodium and phosphorus diet.

What can you do?

The first thing you can do is keep yourself away from this disease by maintaining a healthy, natural lifestyle. Stay away from the precursors diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. As we get older we should test regularly, especially if we suffer from one of the precursors. Once you’ve steered yourself of this disease its’ time to help those already suffering from it. Spread awarenesss however you can, maybe by sharing our blogs and social media posts. If you have some money to spare maybe consider donating towards a cause like ours, or if you want to put your body on the line as a way of sympathising with patients, join our annual LifeCycle Challenge! Renal failure is not a disease we hear about often, but it is very real, deadly and devastating and with a little awareness, can happen far less often than it currently does!

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