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Donated Kidneys Keep the Blood Clean

By HERWriter
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Kidney Failure related image Photo: Getty Images

Kidney Facts
Most people are born with two kidneys which are bean shaped organs that are about the size of your fist. The kidneys are located on each side of the spine in the back of the abdomen just below your ribs.

During normal activities, the cells in the body produce waste products that need to be removed. This waste is picked up by the blood and carried to the kidneys, which are the body’s filtration system. In the kidneys, the waste products and excess water are cleaned out of the blood and combined into urine. Each day, about 200 quarts of blood travel through the kidneys and about 2 quarts of waste and water are removed.

In addition to cleaning out waste products, the kidneys have the important job of regulating the levels of certain chemicals in the blood including sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. As the blood is filtered, the kidneys measure the amounts of these chemicals and replace the correct amount of each one back into the bloodstream.

The kidneys also produce three key hormones which are used by the body as messengers to regulate certain functions. These hormones stimulate red blood cell production in the bone marrow, regulate blood pressure, and regulate vitamin D which is needed for healthy calcium levels in the bones.

Why people need kidney transplants
Kidneys that are injured in an accident or damaged by disease do not work as well as healthy kidneys. High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of kidney disease. In people with diabetes, excess glucose (sugar) in the blood can damage the filters in the kidneys that trap and remove waste products. High blood pressure can damage the very small blood vessels inside the kidneys which limits the flow of blood through the filters.

Doctors measure kidney function by testing the blood to see how well the kidneys are doing their job of filtering out waste products. Kidney function of 25 percent or less can cause serious health issues because waste products are not being completely cleaned from the blood. These waste products can act like a poison in the body and may cause nausea, vomiting, itching, numbness, muscle cramps, and a variety of other symptoms. Excess water that is not removed from the blood can also cause swelling in the hands and feet.

The need for kidney donations
The body cannot survive if the level of products in the blood becomes too high. If kidney function drops to 15 percent or lower, doctors must take action to save the life of the patient. Dialysis is a medical procedure used to help remove waste products from the body. It uses chemicals to filter the waste products out of the blood. Doctors are able to keep patients alive for an indefinite length of time using dialysis, however patients are required to have dialysis anywhere from three times per week to several times per day depending on the method used.

When dialysis is used to remove waste products from the blood, needed chemicals are also removed. Doctors must used medications to try to restore the balance of chemicals that the failing kidneys can no longer maintain.

In most cases, one healthy kidney is able to do the complete work of two kidneys, including filtering the blood, regulating chemical levels, and producing hormones. Kidneys for transplant sometimes come from someone who has died who chose to be an organ donor. Because only one kidney is needed, healthy people can also donate one of their two kidneys. Many living-donor transplants come from close family members, who may be a better tissue match for the patient. But the donor and recipient do not need to be related in order to find a match.

Kidney transplants make up the majority of transplant surgeries performed in the United States. So far in 2010, 11,300 kidney transplants have been performed. Over 87,000 patients are still on the transplant list waiting for a donor kidney.

Lung donations save lives
For patients with kidney failure, kidney transplant surgery can make the difference between counting the hours or days between dialysis treatments and being able to live a normal and active life. To find out more about how you can be an organ donor, visit the Donate Life America website.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Kidney Foundation
National Institutes of Health Medline Plus: Kidney Transplant
Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.