The right kidney usually lies slightly lower than the left and usually is also smaller. The kidneys are critical to maintaining body homeostasis. They regulate how acid or alkaline our body is; manages the correct concentration of all the necessary electrolytes in the body, such as potassium and sodium; our blood pressure; and how much of the body’s fluid is in between our cells and not inside the arteries and veins. On an average day, the kidneys filter about 180 litres of fluid, reabsorb the vast majority of that and leave us with about two litres of urine a day. As glucose also gets reabsorbed, we can use the urine to see if somebody has diabetes, because as soon as blood levels reach 8.9 mmol/l, the kidney cannot keep up with full absorption of the glucose back into the blood and it will start spilling into the urine. Also, through excretion, the body uses the kidneys to get harmful substances—called urea and uric acid—that are the product of protein and nucleic acid metabolism into the urine and in that way out of the body.
If our kidneys stop working completely, we will only survive on average for ten more days. Our kidneys can fail for a number of reasons. These include a loss of blood flow to the kidneys (such as in severe dehydration or when one suffered extensive burn wounds), obstruction of the urine passage ways leading to problems with elimination of the urine (such as prostate or bladder cancer), or when affected by other medical conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes or as a result of chemotherapy).
Kidney failure presents with many different symptoms. Some of these include a reduced amount of urine, swelling of our legs, ankles or feet, excessive exhaustion, ongoing nausea or unexplained shortness of breath.
Although one in three of us is at an increased risk to develop kidney disease in our lifetime, we can reduce the risk of that by paying attention to a few simple habits:
- Hydrate well. We should drink at least four to six glasses of water a day. (More than that is not proven to protect the kidneys from developing disease, although is advised when one does exercise regularly, has a high daily protein intake, and struggles with issues such as constipation).
- Eat healthy foods. This habit in turn helps avoid diabetes and hypertension; two of the most common reasons for developing kidney disease.
- Take it easy on over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or aspirin (This is the group known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories). If these are taken too regularly, they can damage the kidneys by decreasing the blood flow through the kidneys over time.
- Exercise. Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount works best for kidney health. If we exercise just the right amount, we manage our weight and help prevent hypertension. If we exercise too much or start from nothing too quickly, we tend to break down a larger amount of protein that then strains the kidneys.
- If we have not yet done so, stop smoking. Smoking tends to cause hypertension, damages blood vessels including the kidneys’, and is implicated in kidney cancer.