The kidney is an important organ in the body. It is also commonly misunderstood and or confusing for many people. This article will consider the kidney, its function, and the most common problems or diseases that affect the kidney.

Some basics

We all (well, nearly all) have two kidneys. The kidney is situated deep in the abdomen near the back/spine, just below the rib cage, on each side. The kidney’s key function is to filter wastes from the bloodstream into the urine – in this way the kidney makes urine, which then passes to the bladder and is excreted.

Common or important kidney conditions

Here are the most common and or important conditions that may affect the kidney:

  • Infection – urinary tract infections (UTIs) normally begin with bladder infection, which can spread to the kidneys. Kidney infection (also called pyelonephritis) is usually a severe illness requiring strong antibiotics and even specialist hospital care in some cases.
  • Stones – various types of “sediment” can form into kidney stones that block the passage of urine from the kidney to the bladder. This is typically an exquisitely painful condition that requires emergency care. Treatments include hydration (giving lots of fluid), special ultrasound, medication to help dissolve the stones (varies depending on the type of stone), and in some cases, surgery.
  • Cancer – various types of cancer can affect the kidneys, either as a primary cancer of the kidney or a secondary (cancer spreads from another primary source like the bowel or the liver etc.)
  • Failure – kidney failure refers to the illness causes by a failure of the kidney to perform its normal filtration function. Kidney failure can result from various primary conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, severe or prolonged kidney infections, severe and prolonged dehydration, cancer, the effects of medications or drugs, and more. Kidney failure is often caused by a combination of several conditions, including ageing. Kidney failure can become a life-threatening condition for which the only real treatment options (besides trying to treat any underlying causes) is dialysis (where machines do the work of the kidneys) and or transplant.

We each have two kidneys and we need our kidneys (some people do get by with only one but it is less than ideal).  Kidney disease is quite common, both primarily and or as part of more widespread illness. Kidney failure is often seen, for various reasons,  in the elderly and generally-unwell patient. The best ways to look after our kidneys come down to general healthy living and good hydration (drink about 1.5 litres of water daily and try to always have light, not dark, urine).

Written by Dr Colin Burns