Most of us don’t give our kidneys a second thought…unless they develop a problem. It’s time to show some respect for these hardworking, life-sustaining organs! Take this quiz to see what you do—and don’t—know about the way your kidneys work and how to take proper care of them.
Everyone is born with two kidneys, which don’t change much in size from birth to adulthood.
Most people are born with two kidneys, but a few of us are born with only one. As for size, each kidney in a newborn is about two inches long…by adulthood, each organ is four to five inches long, or about the size of a fist. Even if a person is born with two working kidneys, one may be removed during surgery to treat an injury or a disease such as cancer. Or a kidney may be donated to someone who needs a transplant. Good news: It’s possible to live a long and active life with only a single kidney. The key is to maintain good overall health and avoid contact sports, such as soccer and martial arts, or other activities that could injure the single kidney.
The kidneys are specialists—their one and only job is to clean the blood.
Your kidneys are multitaskers! In addition to filtering your blood, your kidneys also control the salt, potassium and acid content in your body…produce vitamin D, which supports healthy bones and tissues…and produce hormones that keep your blood pressure normal and help regulate the way your other organs function. But, of course, their main job is to sift out waste products and extra water, which then move into the bladder where they’re stored as urine.
If your urine is pink to reddish, it’s always because of something you’ve eaten.
The color of your urine can give you clues about your general health. As most people know, clear or pale yellow urine indicates that you are well-hydrated, while dark yellow is a sign of dehydration. You can try drinking more water to see if the color fades. Pink to reddish urine may be caused by foods of those colors (such as beets)…but it can also indicate blood in your urine, which can result from an infection, a side effect from a medication such as the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin) or even cancer. See your doctor if you notice blood in your urine.
When bubbles are visible in your urine, it means that your bladder is being fully emptied.
Bubbles in your urine—especially a lot of bubbles—may mean that there’s protein in your urine. When the kidneys are functioning properly, proteins are not found in the urine. If you do have protein in your urine, a condition called proteinuria, it can be an early sign of kidney disease. Ask your doctor to do a simple blood test (albumin) to find out if you have proteinuria. This condition is also linked to cardiovascular disease.
Kidneys normally do their job as long as you live. Chronic kidney disease is very rare.
Some 31 million Americans (10% of US adults) suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), the slow loss of kidney function over time. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, a family history of kidney failure and being over age 60. Obesity and autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, can also be contributing factors. To help prevent CKD, take good care of your overall health by exercising regularly…eating a healthy diet such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is low in sodium and sugar and focuses on fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. It’s also important to stay well-hydrated…control your weight…not smoke…drink alcohol only moderately (if you drink)…and get an annual physical exam.
Normal kidney function won’t be damaged by pain medicines, such as aspirin.
Aspirin, when taken as directed, appears to be safe for people with normal kidney function. However, chronic interstitial nephritis—a serious kidney disease that can lead to acute kidney failure—can be caused by heavy or long-term use of some painkilling medications, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and higher-dose aspirin. Good news: Kidney disease caused by the use of pain meds is preventable. As a general rule, even if you have normal kidney function, you should take pain medications at the lowest possible dose…for the shortest possible time…and exactly as prescribed (or according to label instructions).
If your kidneys ever stop working, you will die.
Untreated kidney failure will lead to coma, seizures and death, so this statement was likely true before dialysis was available—but it’s not true today. Dialysis is a way of cleaning your blood, essentially acting as a kidney for people who have lost at least 85% of their natural kidney function. Dialysis can rid your body of waste, extra salt and water—and help control your blood pressure. If you have chronic or end-stage kidney failure, you will need dialysis for the rest of your life.
An alternative to dialysis is a kidney transplant, in which a healthy kidney from a donor is surgically placed into your body. In the US, more than 120,000 people are waiting for a donor kidney that is suitable for a transplant, and roughly 17,000 kidney transplants take place here each year. For more information on kidney donation and kidney transplant, go to kidney.org or call 855-653-2273.