The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. Their primary job is to clean your blood and produce urine to rid the body of waste. They also balance the levels of certain elements in your blood, such as sodium, potassium and calcium. Kidneys also make hormones to both produce red blood cells and help control your blood pressure. Common health problems that impact the kidneys are kidney stones, kidney cancer and kidney failure.
About 1 in 10 Americans will suffer from a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime. Kidneys clean waste from the blood by making urine, which is made up of many dissolved minerals and salts. When urine has high levels of minerals and salts, hard stones can form, which can be very painful if they block the flow of urine from the kidney.
Causes of kidney stones may include low urine volume, a diet high in salt, animal protein or oxalates, obesity, and certain medical conditions. Be sure to tell your doctor if kidney stones run in your family or about any medications you may take, as they may also increase your chances of forming a stone.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all diet for preventing kidney stones, drinking plenty of water each day is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones from forming. Aside from water, low-calorie or no-calorie drinks are good, but make sure to limit your intake of sugar-sweetened and alcoholic drinks.
Consider a diet that is low in salt and limit the amount of meat you eat. Aim to eat other high protein foods, such as fish or legumes, while also eating plenty of fruits and vegetables each day. When trying to prevent stones, avoid large amounts of dietary oxalates, which can be found in tea, coffee, nuts and chocolate. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian if you need help developing an eating plan to lower your risk of kidney stones.
Kidney cancer and failure
Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, is cancer that forms in the kidneys. The most common kidney cancer in adults is known as renal cell carcinoma. Common signs can include blood in the urine, lower back pain or a lump in the lower back or side. Fortunately, most kidney cancers are found before they’ve spread to other organs and tissues.
Sometimes kidneys are no longer able to filter and clean blood. This can cause unsafe levels of waste products to build up. This is known as kidney or renal failure. Unless it is treated, this can cause serious problems.
Timothy D. Averch, M.D., Director, Endourology; Division Chief, Department of Urology, UPMC in Pittsburgh, [email protected]