Getting this tested is the best way to prevent a silent disease.
The kidneys are often misunderstood organs. Everyone is born with not one but two of these fist-sized, bean-shaped wonders, which are located on either side of the spine, below the rib cage, behind the stomach.
Here is how they work:
Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Within each nephron, a glomerulus or cluster of special blood vessels helps to keep proteins and other large molecules from entering the kidney. The filtered blood then moves on to the tubules, which remove toxins, waste, and excess fluid, before replenishing the blood with minerals and other substances it needs to maintain a healthy balance. The toxins and waste are then moved onto the bladder and eventually expelled in the urine.
Everyone needs healthy, functioning kidneys to live, but their function is often jeopardized by lifestyle choices, chronic medical conditions, or dangerous medications that can damage the kidneys.
What Are the Signs of Kidney Disease?
According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 37 million Americans are suffering from some form of kidney disease and aren’t aware of it. Despite what many think, back pain is not often a sign of kidney problems. Patients who come to me suspecting they have a kidney problem because of targeted lower back pain usually don’t have a kidney problem. The vast majority of back pain is caused by muscular issues, pinched nerves, and arthritis. However, there are some kidney conditions that do present with back pain, for example, kidney stones and urinary tract infections that migrate into the kidney. These conditions tend to present suddenly and are accompanied by sharp and severe pain as well as high-grade fever in some cases.
The symptoms of progressive kidney disease are harder to pin down, which is why so many people aren’t aware they have it until the later stages. Unfortunately, this is when the organs are actually failing and the complications may result in other symptoms, such as fatigue, swelling in the legs, shortness of breath, and weakness.
Key to Kidney Health
A good and simple way to determine whether your kidneys are healthy is to check your creatinine levels regularly. Creatinine is a waste product from the breakdown of creatine, used by your muscles to produce energy. By measuring the amount of this substance in the blood, physicians are able to tell how well your kidneys are working. This test is usually done as part of routine lab work for annual physicals. If you are a diabetic, a creatinine blood test is a must since 30-40% of patients with diabetes will develop kidney disease.
Since kidney disease is silent for the most part, blood creatinine levels will help us to identify it early and come up with a good treatment plan that will preserve your kidney function to the best degree possible.
Be diligent about your health and regular checkups, take care of your kidneys, and they will take care of you for a long time.
Dr. Ronald Reichel is a board-certified nephrologist who sees patients in Armonk and Yorktown.
To make an appointment, please call 914-849-7060.