Kidney basics

What do kidneys do?

Your two kidneys work more than you realise. The kidneys remove excess body water and waste products 24 hours a day. The excess body water and waste products are removed from your body in the urine.

Besides the “removal” or “cleaning” job, kidneys have several other very important functions:

  • They regulate electrolytes such as potassium and sodium (salt) concentration in your body.
  • They produce hormones to:

    • control blood pressure
    • produce red blood cell
    • keep your bones strong

What happens when kidneys fail?

When the kidneys start to fail, they cannot perform all their important functions. Excess body water and waste products build up in your blood. This is called uraemia. Due to the accumulation of water and waste products, and the decreased production of certain hormones, you may start to feel sick. There are different kidney replacement therapy options available to do the work your kidneys used to do.

Who is at higher risk of kidney disease?

Many factors can increase the probability of getting chronic kidney disease, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Increasing age (over 50 years)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Early detection of kidney disease is very important. That is why you should ask your doctor to check whether you should be screened for chronic kidney disease.

Symptoms

When the kidneys begin to fail, there is an accumulation of water and waste products in the blood and additionally other problems occur, leading to one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling of hands, face, legs
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure

What can be done if my kidneys fail?

During the early stages of chronic kidney disease, your doctor will try to slow down the progression of the kidney disease, and the onset of some symptoms, through diet and medication. This is called “conservative therapy”.

Later though, you will need a treatment that replaces more of the lost kidney function.

There are three different treatment options available to replace some of the lost kidney function:

  • Kidney transplantation 
  • Peritoneal dialysis
  • Haemodialysis

Related topics

Treatment Options

All three treatments are used successfully all over the world – over two million people are living with dialysis.