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National Kidney Month

March is National Kidney Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about kidney disease.

What Are Kidneys and What Do They Do?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide that usually come in pairs. Although you can’t feel them from outside of the body, there is a kidney on each side of the spine just below the rib cage.

Kidneys keep you healthy in a few important ways including:

  • filtering waste from the blood
  • regulating fluid levels in the body
  • directing the production of red blood cells
  • activating Vitamin D for healthy bones
  • keeping minerals in the blood in balance
  • regulating blood pressure

What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

A person with CKD has damage to one or both kidneys which keeps them from filtering blood as well as they need to. This keeps waste and excess fluids in the body which can cause other health issues like heart disease or stroke. More than 1 in 7 (15%) of adults in the US are estimated to have CKD.

CKD usually gets worse over time but has varying levels of seriousness. Because the kidneys are so important, when they are not working properly it can cause other health issues such as: anemia, having to many or too few minerals in the blood, an increased rate of infections, never damage and a decreased quality of life.

If left untreated CKD can progress to kidney failure, leaving the kidneys unable to properly remove waste from the blood. While not all people with CKD develop kidney failure, those who do require dialysis or kidney transplant to survive.

Am I at Risk for CKD?

An estimated 40% of people with severely reduced kidney function are not even aware of it. It is important to get tested if you have any of the following CKD risk factors:

  • diabetes
  • family history of kidney problems
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • heart disease

Many types of kidney disease will not create symptoms right away but some people with CKD may experience symptoms such as:

  • puffy eyes
  • difficult of painful urination
  • swelling of face, hands, abdomen, ankles or feet
  • blood or foamy urine
  • fatigue

If you are in a risk category for CKD or have noticed any of the symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor about being tested.

Kidney Transplants

If CKD becomes kidney failure, dialysis and/or a kidney transplant become necessary. Kidneys are the most transplanted organ and kidney transplants have a high success rate. In the LifeSource service area (MN, ND and SD) there are about 3,000 people waiting for life-saving transplants, 83% of those are waiting for a kidney. Because the need for kidney transplants is so great it is common for a person to spend 3-5 years on the wait list to receive a kidney.

Types of Donation and How You Can Help

Kidneys are the organ most commonly given by living donors. A living kidney donor can be a family member, friend, spouse or even a stranger who chooses to donate anonymously. Because of advances in medicine, a genetic link between the donor and recipient is no longer a requirement to make a transplant successful.

Learn more about living donation here.

While not everyone can be a living donor, everyone can say yes to organ, eye and tissue donation after they have passed away. Anyone can register to save lives as an organ donor.