What are the Kidneys?
The kidneys are two bean shaped organs each about the size of a fist located in the lower back. Each person is normally born with two kidneys.
What do the Kidneys do?The kidneys have many functions but their major function is to clean the blood by removing waste products and regulating the body fluids. They produce urine through which unwanted waste products are eliminated from the body. They also regulate blood pressure, red blood cells and calcium through the production of some hormones.
What is Kidney Failure?
Kidney failure occurs when both kidneys are so damaged that they can no longer clean waste products from the blood. When only one kidney is lost the other one is usually strong enough to do the job. There are 2 types of kidney failure: Acute and Chronic.
A Acute Kidney (Renal) failure is a sudden decrease in kidney function. It can happen for example with severe infections, severe vomiting and diarrhea with dehydration, intoxications or allergic reactions. With treatment in the hospital, there is almost always return to normal kidney function.
Chronic Kidney (Renal) Failure is the gradual loss of kidney function because of kidney damage. Sometimes Chronic Kidney disease may be hereditary. Other causes are repeated infections in the kidneys, inflammation of kidney blood vessels or heavy use of certain drugs and medications.
What are the factors that increase the risk of developing Chronic Kidney Failure?
The main risk factors are:
Family History: Diabetes and High blood pressure are hereditary conditions and they are the major causes of Chronic Kidney Disease.
Age: The kidneys begin to get smaller at about age 35. At age 80 most people have lost about 30% of their kidney mass.
Race: Chronic Kidney Failure is commoner in people of African and Native American descent.
Sex: Men have been found to have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney failure.
What happens when the kidneys fail?
Harmful waste products and excess fluid accumulate in the body. This will result in the affected person having a poor appetite, vomiting, inability to concentrate, getting tired easily, looking pale, bruising, ankle swelling and elevated blood pressure.
How is Kidney failure treated?
At first, the decrease in the ability of the kidney to regulate the body chemistry requires only medications and changes in the diet; Treatment helps to prolong the life of the kidneys. However when the kidney failure becomes severe (usually less than 10-15%of the normal kidney function, it is called end-stage renal disease and treatments that replace the work of healthy kidneys must be started.
What are the treatments for End–stage renal disease?
When the kidneys fail completely there are 2 options available to sustain life: Dialysis or Transplantation.
DIALYSIS is a process through which the blood is cleaned of waste products and excess fluid is removed. There are two types of Dialysis namely peritoneal dialysis and Hemodialysis. Hemodialysis is the form of dialysis widely practiced here in Nigeria. It involves running the patient’s blood through a dialysis machine which filters out the waste products and excess fluid before returning the blood back into the patient’s body. It is best performed 3 days a week and usually lasts from 3-6 hours per session in a dialysis centre.
TRANSPLANTATION- Kidney transplantation refers to a surgical procedure whereby a healthy kidney is removed from one person (a donor) and placed into the patient with the kidney failure (the recipient). The donor may be a living person preferably a family member or a very recently deceased individual who has prior to his /her death given permission to have his/her organs donated. Because the kidney is foreign to the patient’s body he/she will be required to take a number of immunosuppressive medications daily to decrease the chances of transplant rejection. He or she will also need life-long medical check-ups.
How long can a person live with chronic Kidney Failure
Many people think that if their kidneys fail, they will die immediately. This used to be true 40-50 years ago when there were not enough dialysis machines to go around and medical knowledge about kidney disease was limited. Today however the life span of a patient with kidney failure varies depending on their age, other health problems and how involved they are in their care. Today we have better drugs, know better about how to slow down kidney failure and have technically advanced dialysis machines. The most important factor is the individual who has the disease because research shows that patients who take a more active role in their own care live longer , so patients should ask questions and explore with their doctor what is the best way to manage their disease.
How good will my life be with Chronic Kidney Failure?
This depends on the patient, in the early stages; the symptoms may be so subtle the patient often does not notice them. In later stages fatigue, loss of appetite, itching and the other symptoms mentioned above can reduce the patient’s quality of life if he/she does not act fast because all these symptoms can be treated. The patient should talk to his/her doctor about signs and symptoms to look out for. Taking medications on time can also slow down the progression of kidney disease.
How do I prevent Chronic Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney disease may sometimes be prevented by controlling the other diseases or factors that can contribute to kidney disease. Because chronic kidney disease is often caused by high blood pressure and diabetes, keeping your blood pressure and sugar levels near normal can help prevent damage to the kidneys. Others steps that may help reduce the chances of developing chronic kidney failure include eating a diet low in protein and fat, and also avoiding the long term use or dependence on medicines that can damage the kidneys such as some pain relievers and antibiotics.
Dr. Olukayode Williams