Health Q&A Focus: Kidney health

They're two bean-shaped organs tucked under the ribcage which you may not think about much, but the kidneys do a lot for you.

Health Q&A Focus: Kidney health

They're two bean-shaped organs tucked under the ribcage which you may not think about much, but the kidneys do a lot for you. Dr Hugh Gallagher, consultant renal physician and British Kidney Patient Association spokesperson, explains.
Why are the kidneys important?
Their main job is to remove water and the waste products of metabolism from the body and produce urine. They're also key in the control of blood pressure, for strong bones, and the production of red blood cells.
How common are kidney problems?
Around 1 in 10 men have some degree of kidney problem – but in most it's not severe. The kidneys might not be clearing waste as efficiently as they should be, or perhaps they are damaged in some other way. In the UK, almost 1 million men have been diagnosed with kidney disease. It can affect all age groups but is found more often in older men – it's very common to lose kidney function as we age.
What are the other risk factors for kidney disease?
Two very important risk factors are having high blood pressure and diabetes. Other risk factors include social deprivation, family history, smoking, and probably obesity.
Are there symptoms?
Most men have no symptoms, particularly in the early stages. There are certain risk factors that indicate that you should have a kidney blood and urine test. All men aged 40–74 should take an NHS health check ('midlife MOT') – this assesses your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and may indicate that kidney tests are needed. Blood in the urine can be a sign of kidney trouble, but it's usually not visible; it can also be a sign of problems elsewhere in the urinary tract.
So what's the advice?
It's important to eat a balanced diet, including your five-a-day. A salt intake of less than 6g a day is critical. Get regular exercise: 75–150 minutes a week, depending on intensity. Don't smoke. Drink adequately. In people with diabetes or blood pressure, controlling these underlying conditions is very important.

For further advice, see www.britishkidney-pa.co.uk.

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