May 2013

Kidney disease: early detection saves lives

Supplied by Government Employees Medical Scheme
Kidney disease or failure kills at least 10 000 South Africans every year, according to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa.

Kidneys, the bean-shaped organs the size of a fist, perform the important tasks of making chemicals for the body, retaining substances and eliminating toxic waste.Although we don’t give them a second thought, kidneys are among the most important organs in the body, constantly working to remove deadly toxins.

The two remarkable bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, manufacture important chemicals for the body, retain the substances we need to be healthy and eliminate toxic waste from the body via urine. The waste and extra water are processed into urine, which travels via tubes called ureters to the bladder.

If the kidneys are damaged or do not function properly, it can result in kidney disease.

The silent killer

Kidney disease is sometimes known as the “silent killer” because it often develops gradually, without giving the sufferer any warning - until the kidneys are irreparably damaged.

In most cases the deterioration of the kidneys is relatively slow. This is called chronic kidney disease. If the decline in the kidneys is not picked up by healthcare professionals early enough, they may be permanently damaged.

Kidney failure occurs when there is a complete or nearly complete loss in the functioning of the kidneys. Once the kidneys are damaged they start to lose their functioning, with the body becoming poisoned by the toxins and wastes that build up. In serious cases the patient will need regular dialysis - a medical procedure where a machine is used to remove toxins from the blood - or a kidney transplant.

Manageable condition

Kidney disease cannot be cured. However, if this medical condition is diagnosed early and properly treated, it can be controlled and further damage to the kidneys prevented. It is important to identify the condition as soon as possible.

Why do kidneys fail?

The kidneys may be damaged and start to fail for a number reasons including:

  • Certain infections and illnesses.
  • Recurring kidney stones or bladder infections.
  • Trauma or accidents.
  • Toxins.
  • Certain cancers and cysts.
What are the signs of kidney disease?
  • Swelling of the body.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Insomnia (sleeplessness).
  • Body aches and pains.
  • Impairment of thought processes.
  • Headaches and high blood pressure.

If you display any signs of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.

Tips to prevent kidney disease:
  • Good nutrition. By ensuring that you eat a balanced, nutritious diet you can help prevent kidney disease.
  • Quit smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to have reduced kidney function.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Drink plenty of water. This will help the kidneys in flush out harmful toxins.
  • Exercise. It can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes that in turn can increase the risk factors for kidney disease.

National Kidney Foundation of South Africa
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

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