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March is National Kidney Month

Are Your Kidneys Trying to Tell You Something?

Even though they’re vital to our health kidneys don’t often get the attention they deserve. Learn the symptoms of kidney disease, treatment, and what you can do now to prevent serious issues in the future.

Located just below the ribcage, the kidneys filter approximately 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about one to two quarts of urine, composed of wastes and extra fluid. Our kidneys keep the composition, or makeup, of blood stable, which lets the body function normally. They also prevent waste and extra fluid from building up in our bodies; regulate the body’s levels of sodium, potassium, and phosphate; and manufacture hormones that regulate blood pressure, keep our bones strong, and control the number of the body’s red blood cells.

The National Kidney Foundation lists diabetes—Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes—and high blood pressure as the top two leading causes of kidney failure, also called end stage kidney disease (ESRD).

ESRD occurs when approximately 90% of kidney function has been lost. You may be at risk if you suffer from any of the following:

  • Diabetes;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Heart disease;
  • Obesity; and
  • High cholesterol.

Or if you:

  • Smoke;
  • Have a family history of kidney disease;
  • Are 65 or older; or
  • Are African-American, Native American, or Asian-American.

The signs of kidney disease can be similar to many other medical conditions. Some may experience a combination of these symptoms and assume they simply have a cold. Your kidneys are such hard workers that when a problem exists they will adjust and compensate for any loss of function—making it even harder for the average person to recognize a problem exists. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Nausea;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Fatigue and weakness;
  • Problems sleeping;
  • Changes in urine output;
  • Muscle twitches and cramps;
  • Decreased mental sharpness;
  • Hiccups; and
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles;
  • Persistent itching;
  • High blood pressure.

Ignoring these symptoms is not an option. Kidney disease can lead to many complications, including cardiovascular disease, fluid retention, anemia, an increased risk of bone fractures, severe complications in pregnancy, and a decrease in the strength of your immune system which makes you more likely to contract infections.

When to Call a Doctor

If you’re experiencing any symptoms or fall into the categories for risk, make an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to list for him all symptoms you may be experiencing, a current list of the medications you’re taking (including supplements), and pertinent family history. With this information, and simple lab tests, the doctor can determine if you have kidney damage. If a diagnosis confirms kidney disease, your doctor will work up a treatment plan to begin to immediately relieve many of your symptoms. Treatment most often involves medication and changes in diet.

Of course, the best “treatment” is often prevention. Simple lifestyle changes can make your kidneys’ job much easier! If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to just one drink per day. Increase your physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. Limit your use of over-the-counter pain medication—taking too much can lead to kidney damage. And, of course, don’t smoke!

Dr. David Herminghuysen, at CCHC New Bern Internal Medicine Specialists, is board certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. He is currently accepting new patients and would be happy to discuss any concerns you may have about your kidney health and provide any education materials you might need. To make an appointment, call 252-633-5333.


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