Diseased kidneys Healthy kidneys
These days, it has virtually become the tradition while watching prime time TV shows to have programmes interrupted for a few minutes, not for product advertisement but for funds solicitation.
Nigerians are now familiar with gaunt figures lying critically sick on the bed and plugged to dialysis machine begging for donations from government and kind-hearted members of public.
The solicited funds usually run into millions of naira to:
Physicians say when it comes to size, the kidneys are small. However, as Kidney Specialist, Dr. Mumeen Amisu opines, “The kidneys may be small, but they perform many vital functions that help maintain your overall health, including filtering waste and excess fluids from your blood.”
These organs maintain the balance of salt and minerals in the blood, and also help regulate blood pressure.
The online portal, webmd.com, warns that when the kidneys are damaged, waste products and fluid can build up in the body, causing swelling of the ankles, nausea, vomiting, weakness, poor sleep, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, abnormally low urine levels, low blood flow to the kidneys and kidney cell death.
“If left untreated, diseased kidneys may eventually stop functioning completely. Loss of kidney function is a serious — and potentially fatal — condition,” doctors say.
Experts warn that serious kidney disease may lead to complete kidney failure and the need for dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant when about 90 per cent of the kidney function has been lost. “Once you get a transplant, though, you will have to be on medications for life,” experts aver.
Though effective treatments are available for many kidney diseases, physicians contend that kidney disease can often be prevented.
Amisu says apart from genetic or congenital causes — which are beyond the control of anybody — two avoidable leading diseases that can lead to kidney disease are hypertension and diabetes.
On how diabetes affects kidney health, family doctor, Olu George, notes that when someone has diabetes, there can be excess glucose in the blood. “When glucose levels are elevated for a long time, it can cause damage in the tiny blood vessels of the kidneys. Once this happens, the organs won’t be able to filter out toxins effectively as they should,” George explains.
Both Amisu and George say blood pressure is influenced by the kidneys and that how healthy your kidneys are can affect your blood pressure, and vice versa.
George explains in-depth, “Hypertension causes artery damage, and the kidneys are packed with arteries. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken or harden. When this happens, the damaged arteries will not be able to deliver enough blood to the kidney tissue.”
Experts say damaged kidney arteries will neither filter blood well, nor regulate the fluid, hormones, acids and salts in the body.
Consequently, George says, “damaged kidneys will fail to regulate blood pressure. That is why we always advise people to manage their blood pressure, because it is an important way to prolong the health of the kidneys.”
Amisu says kidney damage and uncontrolled hypertension each contribute to a negative spiral because, as more arteries become blocked and stop functioning, the kidneys eventually fail.
Those who use drugs indiscriminately should also receive instruction about the possible repercussions on kidney health. Experts warn that those who abuse drugs or alcohol are essentially going out of their way to poison their own bodies.
This concerns the overuse of some over-the-counter pain killers and using abusive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.
“In the process, they are placing an enormous burden on the kidneys. This is because the kidneys act as filters; and, like the oil filter in a vehicle, the filter provided by the kidneys, though powerful, has limits to how much it can take in terms of impurities,” Amisu says.
Kidneys can be injured when an individual has an accident that results in blood loss, physicians say.
George explains that, in various ways, “sudden reduction of blood flow to the kidneys, damage to the organs as a result of septic shock during a severe infection, or obstruction of urine flow can all injure kidney health.”
Experts also say that acute kidney injury can result from pregnancy complications, such as seizures (eclampsia) and pre-eclampsia (characterised by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine).
Another pregnancy complications that can lead to kidney injury is the HELLP Syndrome — a life-threatening liver disorder characterised by destruction of red blood cells (Hemolysis), Elevated Liver enzymes (indicating liver damage), and Low Platelet count. Low platelet count reduces the ability of the blood to clot whenever there’s an injury.
And if you are a marathon runner or an athlete who don’t drink enough fluids while competing in long-distance endurance events, you risk acute renal (kidney) failure that may result from a sudden breakdown of muscle tissue. “This muscle breakdown releases a chemical called myoglobin that can damage the kidneys,” George says.
And women need to hear this: Multiple urinary tract infections can also damage the kidneys! Pregnant and menopausal women are very susceptible to UTI, physicians warn. They advise that to prevent it, women should drink lots of water every day, and urinate often instead of holding it. They are also advised to urinate right after having sex.
“How do we prevent kidney disease?” you may ask. Simple: by eating well.
A study by a group of scientists, led by Dr. Alex Chang of Johns Hopkins University, USA, reveals that people with normal kidneys who eat bad quality diet high in processed and red meats, sodium (salt), and sugar-sweetened beverages, and low in fruit, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy are more likely to develop kidney disease.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease, Chang says: “Unlike family history of kidney disease, diet, smoking, and obesity are modifiable lifestyle factors that we can all control. By eating well, quitting smoking, and maintaining a normal weight, people can protect their kidneys and prevent future damage.”
A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
By Solaade Ayo-Aderele