Education & Resources
WHAT DO KIDNEYS DO?
The kidneys remove extra wastes and fluid from your body, which helps you stay healthy.
Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, found on either side of your spine and just below your rib cage. Most people have two kidneys, but some people have only one. You can be healthy with only one kidney if it is functioning properly.
Even though your kidneys are small, they keep your body chemistry in balance by removing wastes and fluids. All the blood in the body passes through the kidneys several times a day.
This is how kidneys work:
- Blood enters the kidney through a large artery from the heart called the renal artery
- The blood is cleaned as it passes through millions of blood filters in the kidneys called the nephrons
- Wastes and fluid pass out of the kidneys to the bladder through tubes called the ureters.
- The waste and fluid is stored in the bladder as urine
- The bladder becomes full and then the urine passes out of the body
Healthy kidneys clean a persons’ blood 24 hours a day.
WHY DO KIDNEYS FAIL?
Kidneys may fail due to some of the following reasons:
- Untreated long-term high blood pressure
- Conditions you may inherit, such as kidneys with cysts
- Serious infections like recurring urinary track infections
- Drug abuse
- Kidney stones
- Diabetes that is long-term or poorly controlled
All of these health problems can and will damage the nephrons in your kidneys, possibly leading to kidney failure.
If the nephrons are damaged, they cannot filter wastes out of your blood. This will lead to a buildup of wastes and fluid in your body, and will make you sick.
WHAT IS CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE?
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a long-term illness that cannot be cured—only managed. There are five stages of kidney disease, leading to kidney failure. When a person reaches Stage 5, the kidneys have failed. This last phase is called End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
There are only two possible treatments for ESRD: dialysis or a kidney transplant.
SIGNS OF END-STAGE KIDNEY DISEASE
The signs of End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) may include the following:
- Swelling of the face, hands, and feet
- Tiredness and weakness
- Bad taste in your mouth
- High blood pressure
- Loss or lack of appetite
- Shortness of breath
Because dialysis can supplement some of the things that are done by healthy kidneys, dialysis treatment may reduce these signs of ESRD. When your kidneys can no longer function to keep you healthy, you will need dialysis treatment.
WHEN IS DIALYSIS NEEDED?
You will need dialysis when you have lost approximately 85 to 90% of your healthy kidney function.
Dialysis will replace about 10 to 15% of your kidney function, by:
- Helping to control your blood pressure, by removing fluid from the blood
- Filtering medications from your blood
- Helping to maintain levels of important substances (e.g. potassium, sodium (salt), and bicarbonate) in your blood so they’re safely balanced
- Removing wastes and fluid build-up in your body
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Did You Know This About ESRD?
End Stage Renal Disease facts you should know. Expand the infographic here.