What your kidneys are trying to tell you

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Feeling tired and weak? Have you noticed a loss of appetite? Are your feet or ankles swelling? Is your blood pressure out of control? Once you decide that your boss isn’t the cause, you should see your doctor and ask about your kidneys.

What They Do

The kidney is a well-known organ because of the many lives dramatically saved from successful transplantation. It’s easy to understand why they are so important: healthy kidneys remove waste from a person’s blood. The waste then leaves the body through the urine. The kidneys also help control blood pressure and make red blood cells.

When kidneys don’t function well, they cannot remove that waste from the blood. This is called chronic kidney disease (CKD), and almost 20 million people in the United States have this disease. “As most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure, heart disease and especially, diabetes, the number of cases of CKD are on the rise,” says Morrell M. Avram, MD, chief of the Avram Division of Nephrology at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) of Brooklyn, 339 Hicks Street.

Why Did it Happen?

It is important to identify the cause of the kidney disease and take steps to treat that problem. If the problem was high blood pressure, it needs to be lowered immediately. Any prescribed medication should be taken faithfully, even if you feel fine. If you have Type I or Type II diabetes, you have to keep your blood sugar level normal. “You may need to change your diet or take medicine,” says LICH nephrologist (kidney specialist) Neal Mittman, MD, associate chief. “Exercise should always be part of your life. And if you smoke, you must quit. Smoking is bad for everybody.”

Water, Water, Everywhere

It is important to drink water, as people with a tendency to form kidney stones benefit from adequate fluid intake. Additionally, fluid intake will help women avoid urinary tract infections. So drinking eight glasses of water a day is absolutely essential for your kidneys, right? “Surprising­ly, new studies clearly demonstrate that while people with certain conditions do better when they increase their fluid intake, there is no hard science behind the ‘8 glasses of water’ theory,” says Dr. Mittman. “Nor will drinking water alone improve your skin tone, detoxify the body or ensure healthy kidneys.” Dr. Mittman recommends a common sense approach: just drink frequently and adequately.

The Stones (Not the Rock-n-Roll Band)

Kidney care also brings to mind the painful condition known as kidney stones. These are basically hard, solid lumps. They can be any size. But if the stone is large, it can get stuck in the kidney or urinary tract and cause bad, cramping pain. Although more men than women tend to get kidney stones, either sex should see the doctor if they experience:

· Nausea and vomiting

· Cloudy or bloody urine

· Fever

· Felling like you constantly need to go to the bathroom

There are several ways to treat kidney stones. They can pass on their own through the urine or be broken up into smaller pieces through a machine using ultra-sound waves called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). If these methods are unsuccessful, surgery is also an option.

Don’t Get to that Point

The best approach to kidney problems, however, is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Weight control, hypertension (high blood pressure) control, diet (avoiding excessive salt or protein), diabetes control — these are all very, very important. “Common sense prevention at any age will keep your kidneys healthy for a lifetime,” concludes Dr. Mittman.

A Leader in Kidney Care

The Avram Center for Kidney Diseases at LICH of Brooklyn, one of the nation’s first kidney centers, has long served as an international model of widespread and innovative care. Because of Dr. Avram’s efforts, Brooklyn now has one of the largest ambulatory renal treatment centers in the United States. Dr. Avram was among the first physicians worldwide to use the artificial kidney (dialysis) to treat patients with kidney failure. LICH’s Avram Division of Nephrology will host its biennial, international conference this month.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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