Your kidneys are your body’s special filter system. They are vital for your good health. But in Australia, chronic kidney disease is twice as common as diabetes.

Without kidneys working properly, we get a buildup of toxins, which can make us very sick. This is called kidney disease.

One in ten Australians have signs of kidney disease. Worse, 3 in 4 are at risk of developing kidney disease, according to Kidney Health Australia.

The difficulty is that it’s possible to lose 90 percent of your kidney function before experiencing any symptoms. There may be limited warning signs.

About 1.8 million Australians are unaware they have kidney disease.

What are my kidneys for?

Your kidneys are responsible for several key jobs:

  1. They eliminate toxins and extra fluid. The kidneys clean about half a cup of blood every minute. Any waste, chemicals, or excess water is filtered out before it is returned to the bloodstream. Thin tubes called ureters send the waste to the bladder as urine.
  2. They control blood pressure by releasing powerful hormones
  3. They make red blood cells
  4. They keep bones healthy by producing an active form of vitamin D
  5. They control the acid PH levels of our body

Where are they?

Most people are born with two kidneys.

Each one is about the size of your fist, reddish brown in colour, and the shape of a bean. They are at the bottom of your rib cage on either side of your spine.

What are the warning signs of a kidney problem?

Warning signs that there may be a problem with the function of your kidneys can include:

  • tiredness
  • fatigue
  • needing to urinate more often
  • swollen ankles
  • blood in the urine

However, many people don’t have any symptoms.

If you’re unsure, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor can do a routine kidney check, which involves a blood test, a urine test, and a blood pressure check.

It’s important to understand that kidney disease is a treatable condition. Early intervention is best.

What does kidney disease look like?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) often has no symptoms in its early stages. Underlying conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, or autoimmune disorders gradually inflict kidney damage, impairing the ability to function properly.

As CKD progresses, symptoms such as fatigue, swelling, and changes in urine output may emerge. Nephrologists are kidney specialists. If a person suffers severe kidney failure, they may require dialysis.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a medical procedure used to artificially remove waste products and excess fluids from the blood when the kidneys are unable to perform this function.

Dialysis helps maintain proper electrolyte balance and fluid levels in the body, preventing the buildup of harmful toxins that can lead to serious complications.

Why do people get kidney problems?

Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Age over 60 years
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Heart problems such as heart attacks
  • Kidney injury
  • and being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

The leading causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure.

May is Kidney Month

May is Kidney Health Week and Kidney Action Week. These are to encourage people to do the 2-minute kidney risk test to better understand kidney health.

Take the Kidney Risk Test

Kidney Health Australia has a kidney risk test you can do online. It takes just two minutes and will help answer any questions.

How do I look after my kidney health?

  • Avoid smoking (people who smoke are three times more likely to have reduced kidney function)
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like nuts, tofu, skinless chicken
  • Exercise
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol (have a few alcohol-free days every week and stick to the health guidelines)

Nutrition Australia has more advice on caring for your kidneys.

As mentioned, kidney disease is commonplace, but treatable. It is likely to be managed by a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes.

Learn More

This article is general and shouldn’t be relied on as personal medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for the information that is right for you.