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Your kidneys

Normally everyone has two kidneys, each about the size of a clenched fist. The kidneys lie on either side of the spine behind the lower end of the rib cage. If you stand with the flat of your hands resting on your waist, thumbs forwards, your kidneys are roughly under the heel of your hands.

The kidneys remove impurities from the blood alongwith some water. This fluid (urine) then drains into the bladder through fine tubes called ureters.

Kidneys help in maintaining the balance of fluids and salts in the body. They also have a role in the production of red blood cells and controlling blood pressure.


About kidney failure

When the kidneys are to function properly impurities and water build up in the body. This can make you feel unwell and make your ankles swell. Blood pressure may become difficult to control and some people feel tired.

There are many conditions that cause kidney failure. Some of the more common are:

  • Diabetes: too much sugar in the blood can damage the fine tubes in the kidneys that filter out blood impurities.
  • High blood pressure: the fine blood vessels in the kidneys are very sensitive to the strain of high blood pressure, and this can affect the filtering mechanism.
  • Inflammation of the kidneys (glomerulonephritis, pyelonephritis).
  • Polycystic kidney disease: where the kidneys develop fluid filled sacs (called cysts). The kidneys can often grow in size and become quite large. 


How is kidney failure treated?

If the kidneys aren't working as well as they should we can avoid excessive strain to them by: 

Better Diet. By controlling what they eat and drink, particularly salt and proteins, patients can reduce the amount of impurities that collect in their blood so that their kidneys have less work to do.

Drugs that lower the blood pressure often help.


Once kidney function is too low to adequately clean the blood alternate methods to do this are needed.

Dialysis: There are two main types :

  • Peritoneal dialysis: a special fluid designed to soak up impurities in the blood  is run into the cavity of the patient’s abdomen (tummy) through a plastic tube. It is left there for a while and then drained out taking the impurities with it.
  • Haemodialysis: the patient’s blood is pumped through an artificial kidney machine, which filters out the blood impurities. The blood is then returned to the patient's bloodstream.

Peritoneal dialysis can usually be done at home by the patients themselves but haemodialysis is usually done in hospital or at a dialysis centre.

Transplantation: a donated organ can take over the functions that the patient's own kidneys have lost.



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