Kidney Education

Kidney Function

The kidneys are two bean shaped organs located in your back. The kidneys remove two quarts of waste and excess water from 200 quarts of blood in a daily process. The waste and water forms filtered out of the blood forms urine.

The kidneys primarily function as follows

  • Filter waste and excess water from blood to create urine
  • Regulate sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and other chemicals in the blood
  • Release hormones that control blood pressure and stimulate bone marrow to make red blood cells
  • Waste accumulates in the blood as the body breaks down food, drugs, etc. Without the kidneys, these waste products would accumulate in the body, eventually reaching dangerously high levels.

    The filtration of waste products in the blood takes place in the nephrons, a small unit of the kidney. Inside the many nephrons in each kidney is a tiny blood vessel, the glomerulus, intertwined with the tubule, a urine-collecting tube. An exchange takes place that directs blood back into vessels and waste into the urinary system. The kidneys measure the accumulation of various chemicals in the body, redirecting appropriate amounts back into the blood stream and removing the rest through urine. This ability to balance such substances is essential for living.

    Kidney Disease

    Nephrons are often the targets of kidney disease, which eventually reduces filtration capacity. Over a period of time, nephrons become damaged. Both diabetes and hypertension or high blood pressure are common causes of kidney disease.


    Diabetics are unable to produce or use adequate amounts of insulin which results in high levels of glucose in the blood. Over time this can have adverse effects such as damaging blood vessels in the body, including those leading to the kidney. This lack of blood supply to the kidneys can cause damage and lessen their ability to clear wastes from the body. This instance of kidney damage is referred to as “diabetic nephropathy”.


    The glomeruli are structures in the kidney that supply blood to the nephrons. Glomerulonephritis occurs when the glomeruli become inflamed, which inhibits the filtration process.


    Pyelonephritis refers to the condition in which bacteria travels from the bladder to the kidneys causing an infection. Severe cases can lead to kidney failure.

    Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

    High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, but can also indicate that one already has decreased kidney function. Damaged blood vessels cannot filter excess water and waste causing further buildup of waste products in the body.

    Polycystic Kidney Disease

    Often referred to as PKD, Polycystic Kidney Disease is often a genetic ondition in which cysts grow on or in the kidneys. These cysts increase in size and can envelop part of the kidney. This often leads to kidney failure.

    Kidney Stones

    A kidney stone forms when various chemicals crystallize in the urine. These crystal structures can grow quite large in size and block urinary flow. This blockage can cause a buildup of waste-filled urine in the kidneys which can lead to an infection, which often inhibits kidney function.

    Kidney Failure

    Acute Kidney Injury

    Acute Kidney Injury, previously known as acute renal failure, is often the results of some sudden external damage to the kidneys including physical trauma, drug complications, etc. This can lead to loss of kidney functions; however, any damage can often be reversed medically.

    Symptoms of kidney failure include:

    • Frequent thirst
    • Urinating more or less often
    • Passing very small amounts of urine
    • Swelling in the hands, feet, and face
    • Puffiness around the eyes
    • Unpleasant taste in the mouth and urine-like odor to the breath
    • Fatigue
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Loss of appetite
    • High blood pressure
    • Pale skin
    • Dry, itchy skin
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Headache
    • Drowsiness or confusion
    • Darker color to skin
    • Muscle cramps
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Inability to concentrate

    Chronic Kidney Disease

    CKD or Chronic Kidney Disease refers to the gradual loss of kidney functions over the course of what could be years. Damage to the kidneys from CKD is not reversible and patients with CKD go on to renal failure.

    Treatment Options

    The following treatment options are available for patients with stage 5 chronic kidney disease.

    Hemodialysis – As kidney function declines, the body fills with excess water and waste. Hemodialysis removes these by using an artificial kidney or a dialyzer. In hemodialysis, a fluid called dialysate fluid cleans the blood. Hemodialysis requires a vascular access point in the body. This provides an entryway into the bloodstream. Minor surgery is required to create this vascular access point.

    Peritoneal Dialysis – Peritoneal Dialysis or PD is a daily treatment process. PD uses the natural lining, called the peritoneal membrane, of the abdomen to filter blood. The peritoneal membrane in this process acts as an artificial kidney.

    Transplantation – Kidney transplantation is a treatment for kidney disease, but not a cure. The process involves removing a kidney from a donor, living or deceased, and placing it in the patient whose kidneys have failed. A successful operation involves the new kidney assuming the roles of the patient’s old kidneys and the patient should no longer need dialysis.