Wednesday 21 April 2021

Kidney diseases; what you may need to know

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 Kidney Diseases

The kidney is a pair of bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist and located on both sides of the spine. The kidneys carry out the critical function of maintaining the body’s chemical balance which helps ensure good health. If the kidneys fail to function, toxic compounds build up in the blood, causing a wide range of symptoms and life-threatening complications.

Kidney diseases are increasingly recognized as a global public health problem. Chukwunonye et al and Okwuonu et al suggest an increasing prevalence of chronic kidney diseases in Nigeria with treatment costs beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. This prevalence thus necessitates an increased awareness of the disease in Nigeria and possibly, the habits that may predispose one to it. 

                              How the kidneys function

The kidneys filter the blood removing excess water and toxins; the fluids that pass through end up in the bloodstream while those that don't are excreted out in the urine. The kidney is thus helpful in removing potentially harmful products from the body and in maintaining the chemical balance of the body. 

                                       Causes of kidney problems

Problems with the kidneys include health conditions such as kidney failure, kidney stones, and kidney cancer. These problems with the kidneys may be caused by:

Toxicity; The kidneys may be damaged by substances toxic to the body. These substances could be drugs, poisons or even plant extracts, which slowly cause the kidney to stop functioning

Aging. As humans age, changes in the structure of the kidneys can cause them to lose some of their ability to remove waste from the blood. Genetics can also predispose an individual to poor kidney function earlier than may be expected.

Illness or injury. The kidneys can be damaged by illness, inflammation, immune responses, or injuries that prevent them from filtering the blood properly or block the passage of urine. Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) are leading causes of kidney disease.

                                     Types of Kidney Diseases

Chronic kidney disease: Chronic kidney disease is a long-term condition that usually does not improve over time. It’s commonly caused by high blood pressure and diabetes. Over time, the increased pressure and/ increased sugar levels damage these vessels and kidney function begins to decline. Kidney failure can occur when the body becomes overloaded with toxins.

Polycystic kidney disease: Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that causes numerous cysts (small sacs of fluid) to grow in the kidneys. These cysts can interfere with kidney function and cause kidney failure.

Kidney stones: Kidney stones are a common kidney problem. They occur when minerals and other substances in the blood crystallize in the kidneys, forming solid masses (stones). Kidney stones usually come out of the body during urination. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, but they rarely cause significant problems.

The Nephrotic Syndrome: The nephrotic syndrome is not a specific disease; rather, the term refers to kidney disorders that result in significant urinary protein losses (proteinuria) due to severe glomerular damage. The condition arises because damage to the glomeruli increases their permeability to plasma proteins, allowing the proteins to escape into the urine. Causes include diabetic nephropathy, immunological and hereditary diseases, infections (involving the kidneys or elsewhere in the body), chemical damage (from medications or illicit drugs), and some cancers.

Acute Kidney Injury: In acute kidney injury, kidney function deteriorates rapidly, over hours or days. The loss of kidney function reduces urine output and allows nitrogenous wastes to build up in the blood. The degree of renal dysfunction varies from mild to severe. With prompt treatment, acute kidney injury is often reversible, although mortality rates are high, ranging from 36 to 86 percent. Causes include severe illness, sepsis, or injury.

Urinary tract infections: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections of any part of the urinary system. Untreated infections can spread to the kidneys and cause kidney failure.

                                                 What are the risk factors?

  • Smoking
  • Diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Family history of kidney diseases
  • Dehydration
  • Poorly developed kidneys
  • Drug abuse 

It is pertinent to be careful with non-prescription medications, particularly painkillers. It is wise to discuss all over-the-counter medications with a doctor or pharmacist before they are taken. Certain other medications, toxins, pesticides and illegal drugs (such as heroin and cocaine) can also cause kidney damage. 

The use of non-approved traditional drugs and extracts can be a huge risk factor as most of those drugs have not gone through the necessary clinical trials. 

Drinking sufficient water daily prevents dehydration and can help remove the toxins from the body; toxins whose build-up can break down the kidney. 

                  What to do when diagnosed with a kidney disease

Stick to medical advice. If possible stick to the advice of a nephrologist. Get a second, and if possible a third medical opinion. For those with religious beliefs, it is important that prayers are made alongside medical treatments, not alone. 

It is also important that you consult a dietitian for diets that would not exacerbate the disease.

Contributor: Millicent O. Atukpawu (RDN)