How do Kidneys work and why do we need them?
We have two kidneys. They are essential organs that have numerous functions including:
The excretion of toxic waste products that are naturally produced by our bodies in the course of normal metabolism;
Excretion of other toxins that may enter our body such as chemicals (including drugs) if allowed to accumulate in excess quantities;
The maintenance of the acid-base balance in our bodies;
The maintenance of blood volume and concentration;
The production of hormones including a hormone called Eryhropoietin that stimulates the production of Red Blood Cells in the bone marrow; a hormone called Renin that plays a crucial role in the maintenance of Blood Pressure;
Can we live without Kidneys?
It is not possible to live if both kidneys stop functioning (Renal Failure). It is however possible to use a machine to replicate some of the most critical functions of the Kidney though a procedure called Renal Dialysis.
Why does a person develop Renal Failure?
There are many reasons why the kidneys may fail.
These are discussed in greater detail in a separate section.
DIABETES MELLITUS and HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE:
Diabetes Mellitus and High Blood Pressure are the two most important causes for renal failure in adults. They are particularly important because it has been shown that good control of the Diabetes and High Blood Pressure can slow down the deterioration of kidney function. So it is possible to avoid renal damage caused by these diseases by modifying your lifestyle appropriately and take your medication as prescribed.
It is vitally important therefore that you work with your doctor in achieving optimal blood pressure and blood sugar control.
This is a group of diseases of the kidney that damage the filtering units within the kidney (called Glomeruli). In many cases the cause of this disease is not known, but some cases may be inherited and others may be triggered by an infection.
INHERITED DISEASES OF THE KIDNEY
Some diseases of the kidney that cause Renal Failure are inherited. These include Polycystic Kidney Disease.
Stones in the Kidney or in the ureter may cause obstruction and accumulation of urine within the organ and may cause significant damage, resulting in kidney failure.
TUMOURS OF THE KIDNEY
Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumours of the kidney can damage the organ and result in renal failure.
OTHER CAUSES OF RENAL FAILURE
There are other less common causes of renal failure including damage to the kidneys caused by overdose of some drugs such as pain killers (including some that are readily available over the counter), and the use of illegal drugs (like heroin).
Some of these diseases may be cured. Others may be treated to slow the damage inflicted on the kidneys.
One generally has to lose about 90% of renal function (a condition called End Stage Renal Failure), before requiring renal dialysis or a kidney transplant.
What are the symptoms of end stage renal failure?
In the early stages of renal failure you may feel quite well. Your blood will however show rising levels of a waste product called Creatinine.
As a patient reaches end stage renal failure, may experience nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, confusion, and loss of appetite. End stage renal failure may be confirmed by blood and urine tests.
Who should I speak to if I require further information?
You should speak to your General Practitioner or a specialist that you are currently seeing for assistance.
You may then be referred to a doctor who specialises in diseases of the Kidney. These specialists are called Nephrologists.