Kidney Health: Learning the Basics

Learn what your kidneys do and how to keep them healthy.

Doctor discusses kidney health test results with female patient. Kidney health basics.

Healthy kidneys are essential to everyday living and understanding how to properly care for them can help prevent Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). CKD means that your kidneys aren’t working as well as they should, potentially causing other health problems. Knowing what healthy kidneys do makes it easier to understand how they affect your overall health.

Here are some examples of what your kidneys do:

• Filter wastes and excess water from your blood and excrete them from your body in the form of urine. A buildup of wastes in your body can make you very sick.

• Adjust levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorous in your blood. These are minerals your body needs to stay balanced. Depending on your body’s needs, kidneys adjust how much is filtered to keep the concentration in your blood at a healthy level.

• Make hormones for maintaining healthy blood pressure and bone health as well as producing red blood cells. Without these hormones, you risk bone fractures, high blood pressure, and anemia (low red blood cell count limits the amount of oxygen supplied to the body).

The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, but there are many other causes that can affect people of all ages. In fact, about one in three adults is at risk for kidney disease.

Related: 3 Ways to Prevent or Control Diabetes

Chronic kidney disease typically doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s in the advanced stages, so taking a proactive approach is the best way to identify, manage CKD, and maintain your kidney’s healthy. Here are some useful tips:

Practice healthy habits

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with kidney disease or not, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prevent, and slow the progression of CKD. Here are some things you can do:

• Aim for a healthy weight

• Get regular physical activity

• Stop smoking

• Make healthy food choices

• Manage other medical conditions

Know your kidney numbers

There are two common tests that measure your kidneys’ function and health:

• Blood test. The Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) test tells you how your kidneys are working by measuring the level of creatinine in your blood. Creatinine is a chemical waste that is produced by your muscles, and healthy kidneys filter it out of your blood. A normal eGFR is 60 or more.

• Urine test. The albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR) test is a urine test that measures how well your kidneys are functioning. If your test is positive, it means that you have albumin (a type of protein) in your urine. Finding protein in your urine indicates that your kidneys are not functioning as they should, and further evaluation and monitoring are necessary.

Related: What Is High Blood Pressure and How Can You Prevent It?

Talk to your doctor about kidney health during your next visit

Early kidney disease usually has no symptoms. An easy way to stay proactive in preventing or catching the early stage of CKD is to talk to your doctor about kidney health and have your blood and urine tested.

Early identification of CKD can be helpful in slowing its progression. Ask the following questions during your next annual wellness visit:

• Am I at risk?

• What are my risk factors?

• What tests should I get done?

• What can I do to keep my kidneys healthy?

• If my kidneys show signs of disease, what can I do to improve their health or slow disease progression?

Remember—be proactive about your kidney health. Talk to your primary care doctor about your kidney numbers, ask questions, and stay healthy.

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