Kidney problems are common and the number of people with serious kidney problems, such as kidney disease and kidney cancer, is increasing. Yet research shows that many of us are unaware of where our kidney's are let alone know how to keep them healthy!
NHS Choices provides comprehensive information on all aspects of kidney health. The National Kidney Federation and Kidney Research UK will be able to provide further detailed information and support. For information on kidney health problems in children contact infoKID.
So what are the kidneys? They’re the two bean-shaped organs located on either side of the body, just beneath the ribcage that play a vital role in keeping us healthy. They remove excess water and cleanse the blood of toxins. When the kidneys fail, waste products and fluid build up in the body, making you feel unwell, gain weight, become breathless and get swollen hands and feet.
The kidneys also produce hormones that help to control blood pressure, boost the production of red blood cells and help keep bones healthy. This means that if kidney damage is severe it can lead to high blood pressure, anaemia and bone disease.
What can go wrong with the kidneys? The four main kidney complaints are:
Kidney infections these usually happen when bacteria in the bladder travel up to the kidneys. They can cause pain in the lower back and when passing urine, blood in the urine, cloudy and smelly urine, and fever. Kidney infections are more common in women. They can usually be cleared up with a course of antibiotic tablets. You can find out more about kidney infections on the NHS choices website.
Kidney stones are lumps of crystals that can develop in one or both kidneys. They vary from the size of a grain of sand to a golf ball. Small ones generally pass out with the urine. Although they don't cause any serious problems, this can be very painful, especially for men. Bigger stones can get stuck in the kidney or block the ureter (the tube from the kidneys to the bladder). This causes intense pain in the back or side of your abdomen, which may spread to the groin. Learn more about kidney stones on the NHS Choices website.
Kidney cancer cases account for around 2-3% of all adult cancers. It's steadily increasing in the UK, possibly due to the rise in obesity. Men are almost twice as likely to be affected as women. Read more about kidney cancer.
Kidney disease (also known as chronic kidney disease or CKD ) is a term used by doctors to include any abnormality of the kidneys, even if there is only very slight damage. ‘Chronic’ simply means a condition that does not get completely better.
Most people with kidney disease have a mild form of the disease. However, kidney disease still puts them at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
CKD is common and mainly associated with ageing. The older you get, the more likely you are to have some degree of kidney disease.
It is estimated that about one in five men and one in four women between the ages of 65 and 74 have some degree of CKD.
CKD is more common in people of South Asian origin (those from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan) and black people than the general population. The reasons for this include higher rates of diabetes in south Asian people and higher rates of high blood pressure in African or Caribbean people.
A small but significant number of people with kidney disease develop life-threatening kidney failure, requiring treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant. As with kidney cancer, kidney disease is on the increase in the UK, probably because of the rise in diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Learn more about kidney disease
Preventing chronic kidney disease the main way to reduce the chances of CKD developing is to ensure any existing conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are carefully managed.
Some lifestyle changes can also reduce the risk of CKD developing, including:
Love your kidneys - Five simple lifestyle steps can help to keep them in good shape.
Staying hydrated will help your kidneys function properly. Your urine should be straw-coloured or paler. If it's any darker that's a sign of dehydration.
During hot weather in the summer, when travelling in hot countries or when exercising strenuously, you need to drink more water than usual to make up for the fluid lost by sweating.
Eat healthily a balanced diet ensures you get all the minerals and vitamins your body needs. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and grains, such as wholewheat pasta, bread and rice. Don't eat too much salty or fatty food.
Don't smoke or drink too much alcohol smoking and drinking too much alcohol means that your kidneys have to work harder to remove toxins from your blood. Try to stop smoking completely and limit yourself to two small drinks a day for a man and one small drink a day for a woman.
Watch the blood pressure and have it checked regularly. Raised blood pressure has no symptoms, but it can increase your risk of kidney problems. A simple, quick and painless blood pressure check is available free of charge at your GP surgery and many high street pharmacies.
If your blood pressure is higher than it should be, your GP can suggest lifestyle changes or, if necessary, prescribe medication to reduce your blood pressure.
Keep slim to help your kidneys being too heavy raises your blood pressure, which is bad for your kidneys. Try to keep yourself at a healthy weight by keeping active and not overeating.
Your body mass index (BMI) is a helpful measure of whether you're a healthy weight. To work out your BMI, use this healthy weight calculator.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, such as walking, cycling or swimming, each week.
Become an Organ Donor there are over 6,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant and each year 8% of these needlessly die or become so ill that they are removed from the list before they are transplanted. Learn more about organ donation.
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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.