Nowadays kidney problems are widespread and the number of people suffering from kidney related problems is getting larger. Kidney problems can pose a very serious risk to one’s health, particularly when ignored and left untreated. Therefore, someone experiencing kidney problems should not hesitate to consult his health care physician to ensure that nothing is seriously wrong. In addition, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be aware of some of the main causes of kidney problems. This can help to recognize problems before they become too serious, and there is definitely truth in the saying that prevention is the best medicine.
Kidney Problems and Kidney Disease
One of the most common causes of kidney problems is kidney disease, which is a term used by health care physicians that captures any abnormality of the kidneys, even when the damage on the kidneys is not very extensive. The term ‘Chronic’ is used to describe a variety of kidney disease which is ongoing (lasting longer than 3 months) and usually does not get healed completely. Kidney disease is not uncommon, about one in ten people suffer from some degree of this disease. The disease can be particularly dangerous because the symptoms may only start to become apparent when considerable (often irreparable) damage has already befallen the kidneys.
Kidney disease is categorized into five different stages based on a test called the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), which essentially measures the volume of blood that is filtered by the kidneys over a given period of time. The lower the eGFR, the more serious the condition and the higher is also the risk of developing cardiovascular problems such as heart disease. However, the more imminent threat is the risk of developing kidney failure, which may require dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant.
Diabetes and Kidney Problems
People who suffer from diabetes are at an increased risk of developing kidney problems and kidney disease. Statistics show that around 30% of people with Type 1 diabetes and 10 to 40% those suffering from Type 2 diabetes will eventually develop kidney failure.
Diabetes can cause injuries to the small blood vessels of the body, such as the ones found in the kidneys and if these are injured the kidneys may not function properly. This may have as a consequence that waste and toxins are not filtered properly out of the blood. In addition, it can lead to a higher retention of salt and water, which can result in weight gain and swelling. Therefore, people suffering from diabetes must take extra care when it comes to monitoring the health of their kidneys. In addition, they would do well to follow a carefully planned diet in order to avoid further complications.
High Blood Pressure and Kidney Problems
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is also a major cause of kidney problems, although kidney problems can also lead to high blood pressure as kidneys also play a role in blood pressure regulation. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder which can, over time, result in damaged blood vessels throughout the body.
As discussed before, if the blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged they may stop removing wastes and extra fluid from the body. The extra fluid can then increase blood pressure even more resulting in a very dangerous cycle.
Kidney problems may also be caused by infections. In some cases, infections can cause nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys) which is often also caused by autoimmune reactions of the body. There are different types of nephritis such as glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis (for more details just click on the highlighted words).
Nephritis can cause a reduced glomerular blood flow, resulting in reduced urine production and the retention of waste products. Moreover, the damaged glomeruli may cause red blood cells to leak into the urine, causing the urine to appear reddish.
Nephritis is not to be taken lightly as it is known to be the eighth highest cause of human death. Nephritis can also lead to the excretion of useful proteins into the urine, a condition called proteinuria. In severe cases, nephritis can result in an excessive loss of proteins responsible for keeping the blood from clotting and this can lead to sudden strokes.
Kidney stones or renal calculi are another common cause of kidney problems. Kidney stones are aggregated crystals that develop within the kidneys. There are different types of kidney stones classified according to the type of crystals they are made from. The most common type of kidney stones are composed mainly of calcium oxalate.
Often times, kidney stones are expelled through the urinary tract without causing any symptoms. However, if they become too large (ca. 3 millimeters or more in diameter) the stones can obstruct the ureter causing large amounts of pain until the stones are finally passed. Fortunately, surgery is only seldom required, in very severe cases.
Unfortunately, people who have suffered from kidney stones in the past are at increased risk of developing another stone in the future. Approximately 50% of those who have developed a stone before, are at risk of developing another within 5 to 7 years.
One of the easiest things that can be done in order to help prevent kidney stones from developing is to consume a sufficient amount of liquids each day (at least 12 glasses of water a day).
Kidney problems may also arise through the natural ageing process. Kidney function can decrease with age, as reflected by the fact that about half of people aged 75 or more have some degree of Chronic kidney disease (CKD). Despite of this, in most of these cases the disease does not advance beyond the moderate stage unless other problems of the kidneys arise.
Ageing of the kidneys may result in:
- A decrease of the overall amount of kidney tissue.
- A reduction in the number of filtering units (nephrons).
- Hardening of the blood vessels supplying the kidneys with blood, causing the kidneys to filter blood more slowly.
Additional Causes of Kidney Problems
While some of the most common causes of kidney problems have been presented above, there are still many more that can be listed. These include:
- Polycystic kidney disease. A disease in which fluid-filled cysts form in the kidneys over time. It is also the most common form of inherited kidney disease.
- Congenital anomalies existing at the time of birth. Frequently, these are caused by urinary tract obstructions or malformations that impact the functioning of the kidneys. Fortunately, these anomalies can often be surgically repaired by an urologist.
- Drugs and toxins. This can include long-term exposure to some medications and chemicals, overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and the use of intravenous drugs.
As you can see, there are a lot of things that can be identified as potential causes of kidney problems, but by now you should be aware of some of the most important ones. If you are experiencing kidney problems, or know someone who is, you may also benefit from learning about the potential symptoms of kidney disease.