What to Know About Kidney Health and Function

Unless your loved one has kidney problems, you may never have considered them. Here are some tips on preserving kidney function.

Helpful Highlights

  • Kidneys are as essential as the heart, lungs, liver, and brain. Life is not sustainable without at least one.

  • 33% of adults in the U.S. are at risk for kidney disease. That’s 1 in 3 people.

  • Kidney disease often goes undetected until it is in advanced stages.

  • It is imperative to find kidney disease before serious problems start. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) offers a Kidney Risk Quiz to help your loved one determine their risk for kidney disease.

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Why are kidneys important? What do they do?

Kidneys do many amazing things within the body to maintain balance and adequate health. They work very hard and, even when damaged, will continue to compensate until they absolutely cannot function any longer.

Kidneys regulate the body's fluid levels, filter wastes and toxins from the blood, maintain a balance of essential minerals like sodium, potassium, and phosphorus, release renin - a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure, release epoetin - a hormone that directs the production of red blood cells, and activates vitamin D for healthy bones.

Therefore, diseased kidneys can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke, anemia, weakened bones, nerve damage (neuropathy), and kidney failure (also known as end-stage renal disease or ESRD).

Keeping kidneys healthy

The following are things we should all be doing, regardless of age, to keep our kidneys healthy and functioning properly:

  • Get yearly check-ups

  • Quit smoking

  • Stay well hydrated (at least 64 ounces of water daily, unless restricted by a provider)

  • Adhere to a balanced, heart-healthy diet

  • Exercise regularly

  • Control weight

  • Keep alcohol consumption to a moderate (preferably low) level

  • Monitor cholesterol

  • Get adequate sleep

*If your loved one already has kidney disease, in addition to those interventions listed above, they should also lower blood pressure, manage blood sugar levels, reduce sodium (salt) intake, avoid NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen), consume protein (meats, eggs, tofu) in moderation, increase intake of fruits and vegetables, and get an annual flu shot.

Primary risk factors for kidney disease and damage

  • Diabetes - #1

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Family history of kidney failure, heart disease, or diabetes

Other risk factors for kidney disease

  • Age 60 or older

  • Low birth weight

  • Prolonged use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen

  • Lupus, other autoimmune disorders

  • Chronic urinary tract infections

  • Kidney stones

Symptoms and testing

Early kidney disease may not have symptoms, making early detection is critical. By the time your loved one has symptoms, kidney disease may be advanced, and symptoms can be misleading. If your loved one is exhibiting any of these, discuss them right away with their provider.

  • Unexplained fatigue or weakness

  • Increased need to urinate (especially at night)

  • Difficult, painful urination

  • Pink, dark urine (indicates blood in urine)

  • Foamy urine

  • Increased thirst

  • Puffy eyes

  • Unusual swelling in the face, hands, abdomen, ankles, or feet

If your loved one is high-risk or has any of these symptoms, their provider will order tests that look into kidney function, such as tracking blood pressure, checking for protein in urine, and measuring glomerular filtration rate (GFR). The provider may want to perform other tests as well, looking at things like blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, complete blood counts, and other factors before determining if advanced testing is required.



National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

National Kidney Foundation (NKF)


No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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