Important to understand, address any problems with your kidneys

Published Dec 31, 2017 at 9:00am

Kidneys normally function to rid the body of waste products and help maintain good heart health and normal blood pressure.

If your kidneys stop functioning suddenly, there are serious consequences. However, kidney failure is usually gradual.

Since the symptoms are not very specific, many family doctors order blood tests every year or two, to make sure the kidneys are functioning normally. 

If your kidneys are becoming gradually damaged, a variety of symptoms might occur such as high blood pressure, poor appetite, fatigue, itching, swelling of the ankles, and shortness of breath.

Abnormal results of blood tests will lead the doctor to order other tests to make a diagnosis.

Common causes of kidney failure are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, untreated high blood pressure, and various diseases of the kidneys themselves.

One other possible cause of kidney problems is overuse of some pain relievers. When kidneys begin to fail they usually continue to worsen over months or years.

Besides the usual causes of kidney failure, two habits may make the situation worse – smoking and being overweight.

Persons with early kidney failure should stop smoking and should lose weight, if they are overweight. 

If the doctor suspects kidney problems, he or she will take a history, do a physical exam, and order blood and urine tests.

Imaging tests such as ultrasound plus a kidney biopsy may be done and at that point a diagnosis may be made.

Your family doctor will probably refer you to a specialist, called a nephrologist, for on-going care.

The nephrologist will help you understand the seriousness of your condition and will follow you closely.

Treatment may keep the kidneys functioning for quite a while, before they completely fail. When the condition worsens, you will develop more severe symptoms. Blood pressure may remain elevated, you may retain fluid, and you may be too tired to function well. At that time, you and the doctor will consider dialysis, which is artificial kidney treatment. 

One type of dialysis is usually done at home, putting special fluid into the abdomen.

When the fluid is removed, the body has been cleansed of waste material and chemicals have been balanced.

Hemodialysis involves going to a dialysis center, spending several hours, three times a week, with your blood flowing through the artificial kidney machine.

The machine will function as a kidney. It will cleanse the blood of waste products and rebalance various chemicals in the body.

Kidney transplant is possible for some people with chronic liver failure. A donor kidney is transplanted into the patient and usually the failed kidneys are left in place.

Whatever treatment choice is used, it is important to stay healthy and work closely with your doctors. Don’t smoke, don’t overeat, keep blood pressure and blood sugar under control. Get regular exercise, as you are able.