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Your kidneys: Here is what could go wrong

Health & Science
 Chronic kidney failure involves a gradual loss of kidney function. [iStockphoto]

Since 2006, the world has marked World Kidney Day on the second Thursday of March every year.

Such days of commemoration are intended to provide an opportunity to educate the public on potential health challenges.

So, to understand the significance of the kidney consider this: it's one thing when you have a condition that immediately produce symptoms as this would lead you to seek medical attention almost immediately.

But when your internal organs have a disease or even start to fail, the quickest approach to detection is routine medical check-ups.

Now, not many of us would think, let's get our kidneys or colon checked. And often patients come in when it's too late for intervention as in the case of cancers.

Human beings are normally born with two kidneys which are located at the back just below the last ribs. Their work mainly being removal of wastes and water; balancing of minerals in the body; production of a chemical (erythropoietin) which is used by the body to manufacture blood; production of Vitamin D which is necessary for healthy bones; etc.

"In the general population, among every 100 people, 10 to 16 of them are affected by kidney disease. For example, in Kenya we estimate 4 million people would have some form of kidney disease," said Dr Samuel Kariuki Kabinga, a nephrologist based in Samburu.

Common causes

Kidney disease can occur in a person who was healthy previously but lost a lot of blood or water rapidly.

For example, a person involved in road traffic accident might lose a lot of blood rapidly, a pregnant mother who has delivered a baby might bleed a lot after delivery, a person might suffer from diarrhoea and/or vomiting and lose a lot of water.

When kidney disease occurs progressively over a period of months to years, this is called chronic kidney disease.

Chronic kidney disease is very common presently. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are poorly controlled high blood pressure, poorly controlled high blood sugar, and infections like malaria and HIV/AIDS among others.

Managing kidney disease

"Signs and symptoms of kidney disease are usually because of disturbances in the functions of the kidneys. For example, if a person is not able to remove water from the body, he or she might present with body swelling especially on the face, abdomen, legs, and feet.

If not able to produce erythropoietin, he or she might present with low blood level (anaemia) characterised by general body weakness, headache, fatigue, dizziness, poor tolerance to physical activities and body swelling," explained Dr Samuel Kabinga.

The ideal intervention is to get another kidney donated by another person (kidney transplant). Even after a kidney transplant, an individual must be on lifelong medications. Other modalities of treatment include "cleaning" of blood by a machine (haemodialysis) or by fluid put in the abdominal cavity (peritoneal dialysis).

Dr Kabinga explained: "Dialysis is required for 2- 3 sessions a week if haemodialysis and daily if peritoneal dialysis. The person must be on treatment with other medicines like erythropoietin, iron, calcium and vitamin D.

This can be quite expensive, and most patients die before starting treatment. Therefore, prevention is key, and it starts by individuals taking charge of their health."

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