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Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are located toward your lower back, one on each side of your spine.
They may be small (about the size of a small fist), but they do some heavy lifting when it comes to keeping you healthy.
In short, your kidneys are in charge of keeping your blood healthy. That means:
- removing toxins and sending them to the bladder for elimination in your urine.
- adjusting the balance of water and salt as needed.
- keeping the right level of electrolytes (potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous) in your blood at all times.
It’s possible for your kidneys to be failing and for you to have no symptoms at all.
More commonly, though, there are warning signs that, if you pay attention to them early, can help you prevent more permanent kidney damage or failure.
5 signs that your kidneys are in trouble
You’re always tired. When your kidneys aren’t working at full capacity, toxins build up in your blood. You may feel weak and have trouble concentrating.
Also, your kidneys make a hormone that tells your body to create red blood cells. If you’re not making enough red blood cells, your blood can’t deliver oxygen to your muscles and brain.
Itchy skin. It may not be dry skin that’s making you itch. If toxins build up in your blood, you may itch all over, or have rashes. Over time, if your kidneys can’t balance minerals like calcium and potassium in your body, it can lead to bone disease, which can make your skin dry and itchy.
Swollen face and feet. When your kidneys can’t get rid of sodium efficiently, fluids build up in your body and lead to puffy hands, feet, ankles, legs or face.
Feeling out of breath. This, along with swelling, can be an early sign of kidney failure.
Healthy kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin, which signals your body to make red blood cells. Without this hormone, you can develop anemia, which causes fatigue and breathlessness. That’s because your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs.
Urine color: your best clue
Changes in the color of your urine are perhaps the biggest tipoff that something is going wrong with your kidneys.
Clear or pale yellow urine is your ideal. It shows you’re well hydrated.
If your urine becomes dark yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated and should drink more water and cut back on dark sodas, tea, and coffee.
And, if your urine is foamy, it’s a sign that it’s carrying excess protein, which is a clear sign of kidney disease.
Avoiding kidney disease
Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to keep our hard-working kidneys healthy, and even to slow the progress of kidney disease in its earliest stages.
Manage your blood sugar. Diabetes increases your risk for kidney failure. Watch for signs that you could be prediabetic.
Manage your blood pressure. Ditto for hypertension.
Maintain a healthy weight. This will reduce your likelihood of having diabetes or hypertension.
Watch the salt. Monitor your salt intake. Sodium levels directly affect your kidneys, but also contribute to hypertension.
Drink enough water. This one’s kind of obvious. Make a concerted effort to stay well hydrated throughout the day.
Limit your use of over-the-counter pain meds. In high doses, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen will reduce the amount of blood flow to your kidneys.
If you think you might have kidney disease, it’s important to see your doctor. Getting an early diagnosis means starting treatment sooner, which can help slow the progression to kidney failure.
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Warning signs of kidney problems — Web MD
Picture of the Kidneys — Web MD
Everything You Need to Know About Kidney Failure — Healthline
Pain Medicines (Analgesics) — National Kidney Foundation