The kidneys are bean-shaped organs located near the back of the abdominal cavity. Each person has a pair of kidneys, with each organ measuring about 4 to 5 inches long and containing up to a million units of nephrons, which serve as microscopic blood filters.
The kidneys serve several key roles in the body, including the following:
- Their primary purpose is to regularly filter the blood. As part of the urinary system, they are responsible for eliminating organic molecules from the blood in order to remove the body’s waste products. As a result of this process, the kidneys create urine, which it then sends to the ureters and down to the bladder.
- The kidneys control and regulate the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. By regulating the balance between salt and water in the body, the kidneys also help control blood pressure.
- The kidneys help the body reabsorb water, glucose, and even amino acids.
- They are responsible for producing important substances in the body, such as the hormones calcitriol and erythropoietin and the enzyme renin.
Common Renal Problems/Conditions
Problems that affect the kidneys are identified as renal conditions or, more simply, kidney diseases. The most common of these are:
Kidney stones – The urine naturally contains several minerals. If these minerals accumulate or build up in the kidneys, they may harden or crystallize, thus forming stones. Also known as nephrolithiasis, the formation of kidney stones is a painful condition that may cause serious complications.
Polycystic kidney disease – This is a genetic condition wherein multiple cysts grow on the kidneys. If these cysts are not removed and continue to grow and multiply in number, they may eventually impair the functions of the kidneys.
Acute or chronic renal failure – Kidney or renal failure occurs when kidney function becomes compromised. In acute cases, the problem starts suddenly, such as when a person becomes dehydrated or when there is a blockage in the urinary tract. In chronic cases, however, kidney function is permanently compromised. Such cases are often linked to other serious medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
End-stage renal disease – A person is said to have end-stage renal disease when he completely loses the function of both kidneys. If this occurs, the patient will need to undergo dialysis on a regular basis in order to survive.
Kidney cancer – Malignant cells may grow and affect the kidneys, causing cancer. The majority of kidney cancers are due to excessive smoking. The most common type of this disease is called renal cell carcinoma.
Common Renal Procedures and Surgeries
Kidney problems can be treated using a number of medical procedures and surgeries, including:
Kidney dialysis – A kidney dialysis is used to filter the blood when the kidney can no longer do so. Patients who have lost the function of both kidneys, such as those diagnosed with complete kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease, have to undergo this procedure. There are two types of dialysis, namely hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. In a hemodialysis, the patient is hooked to a machine that filters blood then returns it to the body. In a peritoneal dialysis, large amounts of fluid are placed in the abdomen through a catheter. This fluid enables the body to filter the blood and also removes any waste products, which are then drained out.
Kidney biopsy – During a biopsy, a piece of tissue is taken from the kidney and is placed under microscopic examination. This procedure is used to diagnose problems affecting the kidneys.
Kidney transplant – In some cases, a person may need to have one or both of his kidneys removed and replaced with donor kidney/s. This is usually necessary for those who suffer from end-stage renal disease or complete kidney failure.