You may not know a lot about your kidneys. You most likely know you have two of them but you could survive with one, and they’re small and bean shaped.
But apart from that, what do they do? And how do you know if your kidneys are healthy – or not?
The job of kidneys
Kidneys play a major role in your general health and wellbeing. Think of them as the waste disposal system for your blood. Your entire blood supply circulates through the kidneys about 12 times per hour, offloading waste which then passes into urine.
Apart from cleansing your blood, kidneys also help regulate blood pressure, keep your bones healthy and help produce red blood cells.
They call kidney disease the silent killer because it can creep up on you without any visible signs. People can lose up to 90% of their kidney function without showing any symptoms. But once the kidneys are in decline, there is no cure for the chronic disease.
Early detection is important for people at risk because it can halt or slow the progression of the disease.
Symptoms – if any
Currently one in three Australians has an increased risk of kidney disease and one in ten has signs of chronic kidney disease – that’s 1.7 million Aussies over the age of 18. And amazingly, only around 10% know they have it!
Symptoms, if present, can include nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may include more frequent urination, fatigue, shortness of breath, swollen hands, face and feet, headaches, high blood pressure and blood in the urine.
People with diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are at greater risk of kidney disease. Obesity is another major risk factor, as is a family history of heart attack, stroke, smoking, or kidney disease itself. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also have a greater risk of developing kidney disease.
Check your kidney health
If you have one or more of these risk factors, your GP will probably monitor your kidney health with simple blood, urine and blood pressure tests every two years. You can also self-monitor with the KidneyCheck program available through Amcal and Guardian pharmacies.
The KidneyCheck allows you to test your urine for protein – at your convenience and in the privacy of your own home. Depending on your level of extras cover, you can even claim a benefit from Defence Health for your at-home KidneyCheck screening kit.
Remember, kidney disease is called the silent killer for a reason. Don’t let risk factors or symptoms go unchecked.
Kidney Health content contributed by Kidney Health Australia