Your kidneys and you: How to stay healthy


By Judith Boyko

Many of us don’t pay much attention to our kidneys — until we have to. Our kidneys, according to The American Kidney Fund, are “like a pasta strainer or filter. (They) keep some things in your body that you need, and get rid of other things that you don’t.” The kidneys also do many other jobs that you need to live. They:

•Make urine;

•Remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood;

•Control your body’s chemical balance;

•Help control your blood pressure;

•Help keep your bones healthy; and

•Help you make red blood cells.”

However, when a simple medical test indicates that we have chronic kidney disease (CKD), we must make lifestyle changes to manage it.

headshot_jboykoThe two primary risk factors are high blood pressure and diabetes; they contribute to two-thirds of CKD. Other risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol and a family history of CKD, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Chronic Kidney Disease Fact Sheet, 2014. Another risk factor is age — CKD risk is most common in those over the age of 70.

While we can’t undo our family history, we can take preventive measures to ensure that our blood pressure is controlled and that diabetes is circumvented by additional healthy habits.

Some ways to maintain healthy blood pressure include: not smoking; reducing sodium intake; engaging in daily physical activity; limiting alcohol consumption; and managing stress. Diabetes risk may be decreased by maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious meals and staying active.

Now, the facts, according to the National Kidney Foundation:

•26 million American adults have CKD and millions of others are at risk.

•One in three American adults is at high risk for developing kidney disease. Over the course of a lifetime, the risk increases to one in two.

•Black Americans are three times more likely and Hispanics 1.5 times more likely to experience kidney failure.

•About 415,000 Americans are on dialysis and about 180,000 live with a functioning transplant.

•Of 118,000 Americans currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 96,000 need a kidney. Fewer than 17,000 people receive one each year.

Early stage kidney disease does not present symptoms. Unfortunately, symptoms appear once the damage is done and may include “swelling of ankles, feet and hands; shortness of breath; high blood pressure… poor appetite; nausea and vomiting; dry, itchy skin; and fatigue,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Kidney disease can be identified through several medical tests: blood pressure check; urinalysis; and glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which, according to the National Kidney Foundation, “is the best way to check kidney function.” GFR “is estimated from results of a serum (or blood) creatinine test … and tells how well your kidneys are working to remove wastes from your blood.”

Your kidneys are essential organs to your body that help take waste out of your blood; balance the fluids in your body; form urine; and help other essential bodily functions. Go out and get a diagnostic test today.

Judith Boyko, MBA, MS, RN, is CEO of Century Health Systems, Distinguished Care Options and Natick Visiting Nurse Association. She can be reached at For additional information, visit, or or call (508) 651-1786. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at