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About Your Kidneys

About Your Kidneys

What do my kidneys do?

The body's two kidneys are fist-sized organs just below the rib cage that are connected to the bladder. They are essential organs that act as "filters" to remove waste.  They also remove extra fluid from the body and blood.  In addition to these critical functions, kidneys:

  • Help to control your body's chemical balance
  • Help maintain blood pressure
  • Regulate hormones
  • Keep bones healthy
  • Balance minerals

How do my kidneys work?
Blood travels into the kidneys via the renal artery, where it is filtered to remove fluid waste and toxic substances, and then is returned to the body through the renal vein. The waste forms urine, which then flows through the ureters into the bladder where it exits the body when you urinate.

The kidneys produce the enzyme renin to control blood pressure and the hormone erythropoietin to help make red blood cells. The kidneys also work to activate vitamin D, which helps to keep bones healthy.

Nephrons are the individual filtration units that make up the kidneys, so the prefix "nephr-" is used in kidney-related words. This is why the doctor who looks after your kidneys is called your nephrologist.

Renal Failure

Renal means "pertaining to the kidneys." Renal failure occurs when kidneys are no longer able to properly filter the blood. 

Renal failure can happen suddenly or over a long period of time. When it happens quickly, it is usually due to a traumatic event or complications of other conditions. This is known as "Acute" renal failure. With proper treatment, it is sometimes possible for kidneys affected by acute renal failure to recover normal function.

"Chronic" renal failure happens when the kidneys gradually lose their ability to remove the body's waste. There are many causes of chronic renal failure including genetic conditions and autoimmune diseases, but the most common causes are diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). These two conditions can wear out the kidneys due to the extra effort required to filter out the extreme levels of fluid, salts, and waste.

Common Causes of Chronic Renal Failure

  • Diabetes Type I and Type II
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney inflammation (glomerulonephritis)
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Focal segmental glomerluosclerosis
  • Lupus and other autoimmune conditions
  • Overconsumption of some medications

Common Causes of Acute Renal Failure

  • Physical injury
  • Loss of blood flow to the kidneys
  • Urinary tract obstruction
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Complications of autoimmune and other illnesses

Physical effects of Renal Failure

  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen ankles, feet, and hands
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Itchy skin
  • Erectile dysfunction