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Kidneys play a vital role in maintaining your overall health. These two small-but-mighty organs are located at the bottom of your rib cage on either side of your spine. When working correctly, they are essential to your body’s ability to function well.

Your kidneys:

  • Activate Vitamin D to improve calcium absorption
  • Filter and remove waste products and excess fluid from your body
  • Regulate potassium, salt and PH levels
  • Produce hormones that help control blood pressure

Kidney disease affects roughly one in seven adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It increases the likelihood you'll have a heart attack or stroke and is a top cause of death in the U.S.


What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease occurs when your kidneys cannot do their job due to damage or illness. There are several types, each with different causes, including:


Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

A long-term illness that affects the blood vessels where blood is cleaned in the kidneys. It is the most common kidney disease and is most often caused by diabetes or high blood pressure. If left untreated, CKD may lead to dialysis and kidney failure.


Kidney stones

Occur when minerals in your blood crystallize in your kidneys and form stones. Although they may be painful, kidney stones do not typically cause long-term health issues.


Polycystic kidney disease

A genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow in your kidneys. Cysts can impair kidney function, leading to kidney failure if left unchecked.


Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A bacterial infection in your urinary system. Infections starting in your urethra and bladder are the most common cause. UTIs are usually easily treatable. But they may cause kidney disease if left unchecked.


What are kidney disease warning signs?

In its early stages, kidney disease may not cause recognizable warning signs. When you have symptoms, they may be general disorders, such as loss of appetite or headache, common to many illnesses.

As kidney disease progresses, your symptoms may include bone pain, numbness or swelling in your hands or feet, muscle cramps and fatigue.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, with high blood pressure coming in at second place. If you are of American Indian, African American, Asian or Hispanic descent, it increases your risk, as does your family history, genetics and old age.


How is kidney disease diagnosed and treated?

Diagnostic testing is used to determine if you have kidney disease. Tests include a blood test to measure how well your blood is filtered and a urine test to measure a protein called albumin that’s present with damage. Get checked every year if you have diabetes, a family history of kidney failure, heart disease or high blood pressure.

Although there is not currently a cure for kidney disease, adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes not smoking, limiting alcohol, salt and high-cholesterol foods, and getting plenty of physical activity, can significantly lower your risk.


Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

View our kidney services.

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