Kidneys 101

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

One in nine Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation -- but many don't know it.

As March is National Kidney Month, it's an opportunity for people to self-evaluate whether they might be one of them (then obviously visit a doctor if they identify risk factors or symptoms).

Quick review: Healthy kidneys filter waste and excess fluids as urine, regulate minerals in blood, remove toxins and release hormones that control blood pressure and keep bones healthy, among other things.

The best thing women can do is ask their doctors for their kidney score, said Jenna Schumacher, spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation serving Ohio. That can be established by simple blood work.

"It's important because if it's caught early enough, you could deter it from getting worse," Schumacher said.

Free kidney screenings are also often offered in various areas.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of chronic kidney disease. Other risk factors include: Family history of the disease, aging beyond 60, and being African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander.

Symptoms of the disease may include fatigue, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, dry or itchy skin, muscle cramping at night, swollen feet and ankles, puffiness around the eyes, the need to urinate more often and unexpected weight loss or gain.

How, then, can you keep your kidneys healthy?

These 10 steps are recommended by the National Kidney Foundation:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Don't overuse over-the-counter painkillers
  • Control weight
  • Get an annual physical
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Know your family's medical history
  • Monitor blood pressure & cholesterol
  • Learn about kidney disease
  • Don't smoke or abuse alcohol
  • Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you're at risk

Want more? Quiz yourself on your kidney knowledge.