Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak with some major media outlets regarding kidney health, specifically as it relates to kidney failure and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the health challenges that former NBA player Lamar Odom is currently facing. While I am always grateful for the chance to shed light on any urological health topic, it is often with a desire to dispel the myths that can come with mainstream interpretations of these health conditions.
A good place to start is a short anatomy lesson. The kidneys are the two bean-shaped organs near the back of the abdomen that are the filtration system of the body. They filter up to 150 quarts of your body’s blood every day and produce a few quarts of urine – which is comprised of the waste, toxins, unneeded electrolytes and excess acid that your body doesn’t need. The kidneys also secrete a fluid that regulates the body’s blood pressure.
In a nutshell, these organs are important. And while it is possible to live with only one of them, keeping both healthy is the goal. Why? Would it surprise you to know that kidney disease kills more people each year than breast or prostate cancer? And here’s another fact, once the kidneys fail to function properly, only two options remain – a treatment called dialysis or a kidney transplant.
It is true that drug abuse can result in kidney failure. Depending on the drug that is used, the damage can be direct or indirect – sometimes via a dangerous increase in body temperature, an imbalance of bodily chemicals or in other cases, due to muscle breakdown. However, the vast majority of people who suffer from kidney failure are experiencing a congenital (birth defect) or chronic (diabetes, for example) condition that is causing the kidneys to shut down.
Dialysis involves the use of a machine that acts the way a healthy kidney would in filtering the body’s blood. This treatment is required when the kidneys are no longer able to do that job by themselves. In the most extreme cases of kidney failure, dialysis is required for the rest of a person’s life – unless there is an opportunity for a kidney transplant. This process does not cure kidney disease however. It simply does the “work” that a healthy kidney should. It should also be noted that dialysis does not filter toxins from the body as well as a real kidney does. Therefore, patients with kidney failure who are on dialysis suffer from a slow build-up of certain toxins in their body. This toxic build-up is a contributing factor to a shortened lifespan, with an average 10-year life expectancy for kidney-failure patients on dialysis.
While most people with permanent kidney failure don’t enjoy the idea of hooking up to a dialysis machine for the remainder of their lives, the opportunities for a kidney transplant aren’t abundant. There are currently more than 100,000 Americans on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant. But less than 20,000 people will receive one each year. Those numbers indicate that approximately 12 people die each day while waiting for a kidney.
I hope that this important information, while at times scary, serves as a sobering reminder that kidney failure is real and it can have a significant impact on our lives. The good news is that there is so much that people can do to keep their kidneys healthy – from maintaining a healthy body weight, to proper diet, exercise and yes, avoiding drug use. We have so many of the tools required to minimize our risk of kidney problems – right at our finger tips. Let’s use them. The alternatives to a healthy, well-functioning kidney simply aren’t superior to the real thing.
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