Kidney disease: the silent killer

Friday, May 23, 2008
Image: Getty

Wise up on the risks this Kidney Health Week

Kidney Health Week 2008 takes place in Australia from May 24-31, bringing home the fact that these often overlooked organs need care and attention too.

We're constantly reminded of the importance of keeping our hearts healthy, but only a small number of Australians understand the function, let alone the importance, of the kidney. Yet one in seven adults is affected by problems in these less-talked about organs.

What do kidneys actually do?
If you're not sure where your kidneys are, they sit just below the rib cage on either side of the spine. Like all vital organs, they're hard workers and spend their time acting as filters to ensure the right amount of waste and fluid is expelled to keep the bodily balance of salts and acid at the optimum level. Day in, day out, they work through around 200 litres of blood to remove around two litres of waste.

What happens to kidneys under attack?
Kidney diseases attack what are known as the nephrons to destroy their filtering capacity. There are many forms of disease, such as polycystic kidney disease, which is inherited, but the most prevalent causes are diabetes and high blood pressure. In diabetes, high blood-sugar levels damage the nephrons, while high blood pressure stops the tiny vessels in the organs from filtering the blood efficiently.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?
Worryingly, there are few and often no symptoms when kidneys start to falter. The most common signals are fatigue and generalised itching, which are often attributed to stress or lack of sleep and which also allows the problem to worsen. Later, symptoms develop into nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, darkened skin and cramps.

Who is most at risk?
If you answer yes to one or more of these statements, you are at increased risk and should ask your GP for a kidney check-up.

  • I have high blood pressure
  • I have diabetes
  • I am above my recommended weight
  • Kidney disease is in my family
  • I am over 50 years of age
  • I am of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

How can I reduce my risk of kidney disease?
There are plenty of ways to reduce your chances of kidney disease. Watch our Keep your Kidneys Healthy slideshow for some top tips.

For more information on Kidney Health Week visit

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