Mind and Body

National Kidney Month: Get to know these hard-working organs

Courtesy of the National Kidney Foundation

 (Courtesy of the National Kidney Foundation)

March is National Kidney Month, and the National Kidney Foundation says it’s the perfect time for you to get to know those hard working organs.

It’s pretty safe to say that for most of us, our knowledge of the kidneys is limited.  Our kidneys work 24/7 to keep the body healthy by filtering out toxins and extra fluid and regulating blood pressure.  

Like the heart and brain, we can’t live without the kidneys, but unlike those other two organs, there is no obvious way to tell when they’re not working, short of going to the doctor.  This means many people aren’t even aware they may have kidney disease, which is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.

National Kidney Month is all about what we should we do to try to change that.

The importance of screening

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney disease, these are major risk factors, and you should be tested regularly. 

Half of people who have kidney disease are not told their kidneys no longer work until it’s too late and they need to go on dialysis or the transplant waiting list. Screening is painless and can identify problems early so that progression of the disease can be slowed or prevented. 

Kidneys aren't scary or gross, but unfortunately, they aren't very cool.  Zombies eat brains, vampires get stakes through their hearts, but Hollywood hasn’t placed the kidneys front and center with any drama or monster.  

But kidneys can be funny.  Think about a dog and a hydrant.  Urine gets giggles.  

The easiest screening test is to pee in a cup.  It's not invasive, traumatic or time consuming.  You don’t need conscious sedation, no consent form is required, and there is no recuperation time.  Face it…no one ever got hurt peeing in a cup.  

What exactly is your doctor looking for in the cup?  Protein. Just the smallest bit of protein can signal early kidney disease.

If protein is present, your doctor will then run tests to assess your kidney function and help plan your treatment.

What can you do?

There are simple lifestyle changes you can implement to protect your kidneys, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Pay extra attention to the basics such as keeping your blood pressure and blood sugar in check, watch your cholesterol, follow a healthy diet low in fat, salt, sugar and protein and, of course, don’t forget to exercise.  Regular physical activity can make a big difference in reducing risk and preventing complications.

If you have diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood sugar, follow a specific diet and take your medication as ordered by your doctor. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend you lose weight, cut down on salt in your diet and take your medication.

One in three Americans is at risk for kidney disease, so it’s more important than ever to raise awareness. 

Let’s learn to appreciate the power and beauty of the kidneys.  Reach out to your doctor to find out if you are at risk for kidney disease and get yourself tested. 

And don’t forget to visit the National Kidney Foundation for more information.

Dr. Lynda Szczech is the immediate past president of the National Kidney Foundation.