Most people are born with two kidneys – each one is about the size of an adult fist. They are located on either side of the spine, just below the rib cage. While they are relatively small, the role they play in maintaining your body’s health is crucial.
Essentially, your kidneys perform the complex functions that keep the rest of your body in balance. When you eat, your body takes what it needs from the food and the waste is sent into the blood. Your kidneys filter the blood, removing waste and excess water which become urine. If waste is not removed, it builds up in the blood and damages your body.
Healthy kidneys provide the following functions:
- Maintain your body's balance of water and concentration of minerals
- Remove waste by-products, drugs and toxins from the blood
- Help regulate blood pressure
- Stimulate production of red blood cells
- Produce an active form of vitamin D, needed for healthy bones
- Make vitamins that control growth
- Help manage the amount of certain nutrients in the body, such as calcium and potassium
Your overall kidney function can be measured by a simple procedure testing your Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR).
If your kidneys become damaged, dangerous levels of fluid and waste can quickly accumulate in your body. If left untreated, diseased kidneys may stop functioning completely. Loss of kidney function is a serious – potentially fatal – condition. The two most common causes of kidney failure are diabetes and hypertension. You can monitor the health of your kidneys by asking your doctor and knowing your GFR score. Your GFR (glomerular filtration rate) is the best measure of how well your kidneys are functioning, and can be calculated through simple blood and urine tests.