Your kidneys live just below your rib cage on either side of your spine. They’re about the size of a fist. While you can live with only one kidney, this will put your future health at risk in the event of a serious infection, accident or injury.
Kidneys as Filters
The kidneys are full of tiny blood vessels. As blood passes through your kidneys, it branches out into these blood vessels, is cleansed and returns to the body through your veins. Waste material pulled out by your kidneys passes out via the ureter and is stored in your bladder in a suspension of water and waste. If you suffer from kidney damage at any point in your life, you may struggle to maintain your levels of critical nutrients such as potassium.
Your kidneys require water to function well. The water in your blood passes through the tiny filters in the kidney called nephrons. Each nephron is composed of a glomerulus and a tubule. The glomerulus cleans the blood and the tubule routes it to the veins. If you’re constantly dehydrated, these filters are working harder than they need to. Carefully monitor the color and odor of your urine. While the first urine of the day may be dark, the urine you produce later in the day should be clear or nearly so and have a light odor. If you notice any cloudiness in your urine, you may have an infection that should be checked out immediately.
In addition to filtering your blood and removing toxins, kidneys create red blood cells. Like all the cells in your body, your red blood cells age and stop functioning well. As they fail, they are filtered out of the bloodstream and become waste. If your kidneys are damaged by disease or limited in function after an injury, you may struggle with conditions such as anemia.
Watch Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is said to be a silent killer in the case of stroke. However, your kidneys can be badly damaged by poorly managed high blood pressure. This can lead to kidney failure and may limit your later years if you are not a good candidate for a transplant and need to spend time on dialysis. Kidney dialysis is a life-saving treatment, but will require you to spend several days every month tied to a tool that will cleanse your blood. If you know you have a family history of high blood pressure, make sure you get it monitored with regular physical exams and follow doctor’s instructions about diet, salt intake and smoking.
It’s easy to forget about kidney function until yours is impacted by illness or injury. By monitoring your blood pressure and maintaining a healthy water intake, you can reduce the risk of permanent kidney damage.