Mature Living Special Section:Kidneys perform less glamorous, yet vital role

Published on Wed, May 11, 2011
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While media give plenty of attention to heart disease and cancer, more than 20 million Americans have kidney disease. Although there isn’t much glamour in kidneys, it is imperative that you pay attention to yours.

Kidneys play an important role in the way a body functions. The kidneys are located in the back, just below the last rib, on either side of the spine. The two bean-shaped organs are about four to five inches long and roughly the size of a fist. Their main function is to serve as the body’s filtering system—they clean the blood, regulate fluid levels and remove excess waste in the form of urine.

Kidneys perform other significant tasks in our bodies, including regulating and balancing electrolytes, removing drugs and toxins, releasing hormones into the bloodstream to keep us from becoming anemic and keeping bones healthy and strong.
“When kidneys become damaged from disease or physical injury, they cannot filter your blood or perform their other functions as well as they should,” said David Strutz, administrator of the Mount Baker Kidney Center. “Some types of kidney disease are congenital–individuals may be born with an abnormality affecting the function of their kidneys. And while there are other conditions that cause kidney failure, diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common.”

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce enough of the insulin hormone or cannot regulate it. This results in a high blood sugar level, which can damage the kidneys and eventually cause them to stop functioning properly.

“While diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, many people with diabetes do not get it,” Strutz said. “If you have diabetes, it is important to control your blood sugar level and blood pressure, and talk with your doctor about the ways you can prevent kidney disease.”

The other leading cause of kidney disease is high blood pressure, or hypertension. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood against the blood vessel walls increases, making the heart work harder and, over time, damaging blood vessels throughout the body. If the blood vessels within the kidneys are damaged, they stop removing wastes and fluid. The buildup of fluid in the blood that is normally removed by your kidneys may then raise blood pressure even more, creating a dangerous cycle.

“Because the kidneys are the body’s main filtering system, continuous use of drugs and toxins can also lead to a decrease in kidney function,” Strutz explained. “Large numbers of prescription medications and over-the-counter pain relievers used for an extended period of time can be detrimental to the kidneys.”

Unfortunately, many people with kidney disease are unaware of it. “Most people would seek treatment sooner if early symptoms were more detectable, but they often creep up without alarm: tiredness, sleep disturbance, nausea, fluid retention and lack of appetite,” Strutz said. “Blood pressure may become harder to control, and some people can have difficulty concentrating. The mild symptoms of kidney disease do not point directly to their targeted source.”

While the symptoms can be subtle, when kidneys fail, they change lives dramatically. Once kidneys lose more than 85 percent of their function, dialysis is necessary to perform the filtering and fluid removal duties.
There are two main types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Hemodialysis is a treatment that uses a filter called a dialyzer and a hemodialysis machine. Hemodialysis rids the body of excess salt, water and harmful wastes as blood travels outside of the body and passes through the filter where it is cleaned and returned to the body.

Treatment is typically administered for four-hour sessions, three times per week.

Peritoneal dialysis removes bodily waste by using the lining of the peritoneal membrane in the abdomen as an artificial kidney. Four times each day a solution made of water, sugar and minerals is instilled into the peritoneal space through a catheter. It filters waste by the process of osmosis and diffusion; the solution is then drained and exchanged for fresh fluid.

While life dependent on dialysis comes with its set of challenges, the staff at Mount Baker Kidney Center encourages patients to live out their dreams–whether it’s traveling, enjoying retirement or pursing an active life.

With the help of the social work team, one patient was able to travel through Europe while receiving dialysis along the way.
Established in 1980 with four dialysis stations in leased space inside PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, Mount Baker Kidney Center now has 37 dialysis stations and provides more than 21,000 life-sustaining treatments each year, with in-center or at home treatments and through acute service provided to hospital patients.

To learn more about Mount Baker Kidney Center, attend an informative class or visit or call 360/734-4243.

Preventing diabetes

Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes often occurs in people who are inactive, overweight and have a poor diet. To prevent Type 2 diabetes:

Exercise: Find an exercise you like, such as walking, and spend 30 to 45 minutes a day doing it.

Eat healthy: Avoid processed foods, and strive for a well balanced diet that includes vegetables, grains, and fruit. Think fresh fish and chicken rather than red meat and choose a green leafy salad over French fries.

Eat less: Too many calories means excess weight, and excess weight leads to diabete and kidney and heart disease.

Preventing kidney disease

Twenty million Americans suffer from kidney disease, and many aren’t even aware they have it. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, and schedule a urine and blood test with your annual physical. Both can detect early signs of disease.
Besides exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a proper weight:

Watch for changes in your urine. If urination is painful, or urine is cloudy or odorous, you may have a urinary tract infection, which left untreated can lead to kidney disease.

Look for symptoms of anemia. If you are tired, bruise easily or are dizzy, you may be anemic. Anemia can lead to kidney disease if it’s not treated properly.

Drink lots of water. Water is good for your digestive system, prevents dehydration and can help clean impurities out of your system.

Preventing high blood pressure

Almost one in four adults have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for kidney disease. High blood pressure, or hypertension, often has no warning signs or symptoms, so have it checked regularly. To keep your blood pressure from becoming high:

Maintain a healthy weight: If you’re overweight, you’re up to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure than if you’re at your target weight.

Get regular exercise: If you’re active, you’ll have a 25 to 50 percent less chance of getting high blood pressure.
Reduce stress: Stress increases blood pressure, so take a walk, do yoga or practice meditation.

Limit salt intake: Cutting back on salt prevents blood pressure from rising.

Drink in moderation: Limit your alcohol to two drinks a day.