Healthy kidneys are the body's cleaning crew. Located under the rib cage in the lower back, these twin bean-shaped organs, each the size of a fist, filter out extra water, minerals, and toxins dumped into the blood by the body's other organs.
Kidneys process 18 gallons of blood each hour with a sophisticated method of excretion, absorption and re-absorption. By the end of each day, they can produce as much as seven gallons of urine.
The kidneys are reddish-brown, their concave sides facing each other. They are cushioned in fat, with only the tops of them protected by the rib cage. Perched on top of each kidney is an adrenal gland, which produces many hormones vital to life. The right kidney is a little lower than the left because it must squeeze under the liver, a large organ that occupies a large section of the upper right abdominal cavity.
In the concave section of the kidney is a depression containing blood vessels, nerves and the ureter, a small tube that carries urine away from the organ and down to the bladder. The blood-filtering units of the kidney are microscopic tubes called nephrons.
The leading causes of end-stage renal (kidney) disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. These two conditions take a toll on blood vessels, and the kidneys are rich with blood vessels. Managing these diseases can go a long way toward preventing kidney failure and the need for dialysis.
If your kidneys are normal, they don't need special care. A healthy, balanced diet and enough water to quench thirst are adequate to keep kidneys working fine. Fad diets, such as those very high in protein, however, can hurt your kidneys. Drinking very little water, or an overabundance of water (more than 8 quarts a day), may also damage these organs.
Other than illnesses, the real kidney killers are drugs--they must pass through the kidney to be filtered out of the bloodstream. Some antibiotics, anesthesia medications, and antipsychotic drugs may damage kidneys. Even over-the-counter painkillers, if taken in large doses, may lead to kidney failure.
Common household chemicals can also hurt your kidneys. Chemical solvents, wood alcohol, toluene, carbon tetrachloride (a cleaning fluid), and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) can damage kidneys if ingested or inhaled. Be very careful handling any chemical and use it according to directions.
Adapted from US Food & Drug Administration, 3/00
Last reviewed March 2000 by
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