Kidney Health and You: The Importance of Your Kidneys

Photo of Dr. Winnie Su in an exam room.

Winnie Su, MD; image courtesy of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Published March 8, 2018 This content is archived.

Your kidneys may not be something you think much about, but they contribute so much to your daily life. In recognition of World Kidney Day – March 8 – let’s take a closer look at the hard-working kidneys and offer some tips on how to keep them working well at every age.

The Functions of Kidneys

“Each patient receives individualized training by their nephrologist and home dialysis team. They will also need a clean area of room to do dialysis and some space to store the equipment and supplies. ”
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Nephrology Fellowship Program Director

Much of the machinery and equipment you use every day relies on filters to keep various fluids clean and working properly – cars, air conditioners, coffee makers, water systems and so much more. Kidneys are the filters of the body, working tirelessly to remove toxins from your blood and filter out excess water.

These organs also help promote the overall health of your body by regulating the balance of chemicals and minerals in the blood stream. They also play a vital role in regulating blood pressure, and aid in the production of red blood cells. Finally, and perhaps most notably, they expel excess waste and toxins as urine, which is passed along to the bladder for removal from the body.

Promoting Kidney Health

The World Kidney Day website – a joint effort of the International Society of Nephrology and International Federation of Kidney Foundations – offers a number of recommendations on how to help keep your kidneys healthy and working at peak efficiency. Among them are several common practices for good overall health – staying fit and active, eating healthy, keeping your weight managed, and not smoking.

Other recommendations include drinking enough fluids – 50 to 68 ounces of water each day – limiting the use of over-the-counter medications, and managing blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The final recommendation is for anyone who is considered high risk to have kidney functions checked more regularly. High-risk populations include:

• Patients with hypertension

• Patients with diabetes

• Obese individuals

• Anyone with a family history of kidney disease

• People whose ancestry is African, Asian or Aboriginal

Diagnosing Kidney Issues

While kidney problems don’t always manifest with outward symptoms, there are a few indications that may be a sign you should speak with a doctor. The National Kidney Foundation notes that some common physical symptoms include trouble sleeping, lethargy, dry or itchy skin, puffy eyes and swollen feet or ankles. The foundation also suggests that an increase in the need to urinate can be a sign of kidney disease. Finally, excessive foam or blood in the urine may also indicate issues with your kidneys.

Nephrology is the specialized branch of medicine that deals with the kidneys, including identifying causes of issues and diagnosing and treating conditions like chronic kidney disease (CKD), kidney stones, hypertension and other renal diseases. At UBMD Internal Medicine, our team includes a number of talented nephrologists who can work to identify any concerns you may have and discuss treatment options.

Kidney functions are typically tested by taking a blood sample and reviewing the level of urea nitrogen in the blood. This is a waste byproduct that is produced by the liver as part of breaking down proteins processed in food, and elevated levels can be a symptom that the kidneys are not working properly.

Tests can also look at the level of creatinine in blood or urine samples. This substance is processed only by kidneys, and is made by breaking down creatine generated by muscles. High levels can signal that the kidneys aren’t properly processing waste – a symptom of kidney dysfunction.

Treatment of Kidney Problems

Identifying a problem with the kidneys is the first step, but what are the options for treating renal conditions?

Sometimes, issues can be solved by evaluating a patient’s lifestyle habits and making changes to promote kidney health. This can include increasing water intake or adopting a specialized diet, such as one that limits the amount of liquids, sodium or protein in the diet. In more serious cases, however, dialysis may be necessary.

Dialysis involves using a medical approach to perform the filtration work that would normally be performed by the kidneys. Often this can be done on an outpatient basis. However, in-home dialysis options are also available, and may be the recommended treatment for some patients.

“Patients needing dialysis can do it in the comfort and privacy of their homes,” said Dr. Winnie Su, a nephrologist with UBMD Internal Medicine and program director of the Nephrology Fellowship Program. “Doing dialysis at home offers the advantage of flexibility, independence and increased quality of life. Many patients also feel better with home dialysis.”

In-Home Kidney Dialysis Options

There are two forms of home dialysis – peritoneal dialysis and home hemodialysis. In peritoneal dialysis, a catheter is inserted into the abdomen via which a dialysis solution is instilled into the body. After a period of time, this solution helps drain out excess fluid and waste products through the peritoneal membrane – the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Home hemodialysis, on the other hand, required minor surgery to first create a fistula or graft using blood vessels in the arm. This allows for a small amount of blood to be accessed and carried outside the body to be filtered through an external dialysis machine, cleaning the blood and removing waste and extra fluids.

“In order to do home dialysis, patients need to learn how to do their own treatments,” said Su. “Each patient receives individualized training by their nephrologist and home dialysis team. They will also need a clean area of room to do dialysis and some space to store the equipment and supplies.”

UBMD Internal Medicine’s nephrologists work in collaboration with various dialysis centers throughout Buffalo to provide home dialysis. Doctors help each patient determine the type of dialysis that is best for them. Most peritoneal dialysis patients can do treatments independently, while home hemodialysis patients usually have support from a care partner. Once patients have learned the skills and knowledge to perform their dialysis at home, they continue to receive monitoring and support from their nephrologist and home dialysis team.

Kidney Transplants

In the most extreme cases involving complete kidney failure, a transplant is necessary. Several UBMD physicians provide care and lead ECMC’s Regional Center of Excellence in Transplantation and Kidney Care.

Transplanted kidneys can come from either living or deceased donors, and can restore a more routine lifestyle and quality of life for successful transplant patients. 

Discuss Kidney Health with UBMD Internal Medicine

If you have concerns about the health of your kidneys and want to speak with a nephrologist, contact UBMD Internal Medicine. Doctors work in six locations around Western New York, including at ECMC and the Conventus building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, as well as Buffalo General Medical Center, an office on Linwood in Buffalo and another on Youngs Road in Williamsville. Patients can also schedule an appointment at the UBMD Internal Medicine – Nephrology Office on Edgewood in Niagara Falls.

To schedule an appointment, call 716.961.9900 today.