Filtering Fact From Fiction

The kidneys work 24/7 to filter 200 liters of blood each day, removing two liters of toxins, wastes and water in the process. March is National Kidney Month and the National Kidney Foundation urges all Americans to acquaint themselves with this vital pair of organs. To get started, Joseph Vassalotti, MD, the National Kidney Foundation Chief Medical Officer, helps put to rest some rumors about the kidneys. Can you filter kidney fact from fiction?

  1. The kidneys just clean the blood.
    FALSE! Filtering the blood by removing waste products and creating urine is one major function of the kidneys, but far from the only one. The kidneys also help the body maintain a stable chemical balance of salt, potassium and acid. Additionally, they produce hormones that affect the function of other organs. For example, one hormone produced by the kidneys stimulates red blood cell production. Other hormones produced by the kidneys help regulate blood pressure and control calcium metabolism.
  2. If you have kidney disease you must go on dialysis.
    FALSE! People with end stage renal disease (ESRD), also known as stage 5 kidney disease, need to begin dialysis or receive a kidney transplant to survive. But more than 26 million Americans are currently living with kidney disease and the majority of them are not on dialysis. Unfortunately, many people with kidney disease don’t even know that they have it until it has progressed to kidney failure. This is why kidney disease is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer” – physical symptoms typically don’t appear until the late stages of the disease, making early detection efforts critical.
  3. Kidney disease is a manageable condition.
    TRUE! Proper diagnosis and treatment can prevent and slow kidney disease from progressing to kidney failure. Unfortunately, many people don't realize that a few simple lifestyle changes can slow its progression and reduce the chance of ever developing kidney disease. Knowing risk factors and controlling the major ones, such as diabetes and high blood pressure are important steps in preventing kidney failure. Regular physical activity and a diet low in fat, salt, sugar and protein can also make a big difference.
  4. If you experience lower back pain, it’s probably kidney disease.
    FALSE! Pain is not common with kidney disease. Lower back pain more often accompanies kidney infections, blockages and kidney stones. Muscular and arthritic pain are more common causes of back pain, but it’s always best to be examined by your physician or advanced practitioner to determine the true source.
  5. Kidney disease affects certain people more than others.
    TRUE! Anyone can get chronic kidney disease at any age. However, some people are more likely than others to develop kidney disease. You may have an increased risk for kidney disease if you are older, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, have a family member who has chronic kidney disease, are an African American, Hispanic American, Asian, Pacific Islander or American Indian. If you are in one of these groups or think you may have an increased risk for kidney disease, ask your doctor about getting tested.
  6. It’s possible to recover from a kidney injury.
    TRUE! When properly diagnosed and treated, it’s possible to recover from acute injury to the kidneys. It’s important to note, though, that acute kidney injury places people at a higher risk for developing kidney disease later on. Certain medications that are cleared by the kidneys, such as some pain killers, should be avoided.