At the back of your body just below your ribcage are two bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist. These are your kidneys. The right kidney can be found below the liver while the left kidney lies below the spleen. Your kidneys are so important that their failure may be dangerous to your health.
Your kidneys are mainly your blood's filters. Each kidney relies on two passageways that bring blood in and out of the kidney: the renal artery and the renal vein, respectively. Inside each kidney are about a million nephrons. These are the hardworking filters of the kidneys. A nephron consists of a cup-shaped capsule (Bowman's capsule), a tube (renal tubule) and a bunch of blood vessels called glomerulus. Both kidneys are equipped with a drainage tube called the ureter. This tube is attached to the back of the bladder.
Your digestive system breaks down the food you eat into nutrients that are absorbed by your blood. Blood carrying food nutrients are first filtered by your kidneys before it re-enters the blood stream, flows into the heart and is pumped throughout your body. To start the process of filtration, blood is transported to each of your kidneys through the renal artery.
Once blood enters a kidney, it is cleaned by tiny nephrons that make up your kidney. The nephrons strain deposits that are found in your blood so that only clean blood returns to your blood stream through the renal vein. Waste products, excess minerals and water and other fluids leave the kidney as urine. Urine then passes the ureter on its way into the bladder where it is held until the bladder is full. When you feel the urge to pee, it is a sign that your bladder is full and you normally go to the bathroom to pass your urine.
Aside from acting as your blood's cleaner, your kidneys also regulate the concentration and volume of blood that flows throughout your body. This is important for your body's other metabolic processes.
Ideally, kidneys that are in good working condition do not need extra help to do their jobs of filtering blood and fluids. But due to the introduction of toxins from bacterial infections, the food you eat, the water you drink, the personal products you use and the air you breathe, your kidneys may find it difficult to eliminate your body's waste products completely.
Certain health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure also affect the regular function of your kidneys. If you have diabetes, your high blood sugar levels may damage the nephrons that are primarily responsible for filtering blood. On the other hand, a high blood pressure can make it difficult for the kidneys to clean blood well. Decreased filtration may lead to kidney disease and in chronic cases, kidney failure. Some indications of kidney failure include swelling of the body, excess urea in the blood and a decrease in red blood cells.
Early detection is important to avoid kidney failure. Most symptoms of kidney disease go unnoticed until it becomes severe or chronic. As with most health problems, a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle all help in preventing and treating kidney disease.