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Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP Headshot

Let's Hear It for the Kidneys

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I've devoted more than 32 years, 8 months and 24 days of my life to the kidneys, but for 31 days each year all Americans have the opportunity to celebrate kidney health awareness. March is National Kidney Month and this year, March 14 is World Kidney Day.

Each year I try to honor National Kidney Month in a different way. This year, to recognize the organ I hold so dear, I'll be posting lots of health tips and hopefully some new-to-you information about the kidney -- what it does and how to make sure you're doing everything that you can to protect this vital organ.

To kick off National Kidney Month, here are five reasons why I think the kidneys and kidney disease deserve some respect and attention.

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  1. The kidney is a workaholic. Think you work crazy hours? Your kidneys have it worse, I promise. Day in and day out, these fist-sized beans located below your rib cage on both sides of your spine work non-stop. Imagine pulling continuous all-nighters at work! What, might you ask, do the kidneys do that entire time? Without taking any breaks to update Facebook or chat with friends, the kidneys continuously filter 200 liters of blood, removing toxins, wastes and water to be excreted as urine. They put even the hardest of workers to shame.
  2. Kidneys are the consummate overachievers. So the kidneys work hard, but do they work smart? The kidneys have mastered the art of multitasking. Removing waste products from the body and creating urine is a major function of the kidneys, but it's far from the only one. Talk about a teacher's pet. The kidneys are a highly-sophisticated chemical factory. They help the body maintain a stable balance of salt, potassium and acid. They remove drugs from the body. They even produce hormones that have a domino effect on the function of other organs. The kidneys wear many hats, and they wear them all quite well.
  3. Kidneys reuse and recycle. It's trendy to go green these days, but the kidneys have been recycling role models since long before the term had social traction. The kidneys make a concerted effort to save the nutrients and water that the body needs before filtering out the waste products from the blood. Of the 200 liters of blood that the kidneys filter, the overwhelming majority (approximately 198 of them) are retained and reused by the body.
  4. Kidney disease is on the rise. Why, when it's preventable and so easy to diagnose? Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney disease. A family history of these conditions or kidney disease also places you at risk. But it's not all bad news. Routine testing can catch kidney disease early, when you can still prevent further damage and prolong the life of the kidneys. The problem is that in many cases clinicians aren't diagnosing kidney disease, missing the opportunity to intervene before the kidneys have failed.
  5. An ounce (literally) of kidney disease prevention is worth a pound of cure. Testing for kidney disease is as simple as peeing in a cup. Albumin is a specific protein that can be detected in trace amounts in the urine, and its presence and concentration is a powerful indicator of kidney damage. Because kidney disease is often "silent," physical symptoms don't usually appear until kidney disease is very advanced, at which point dialysis or a kidney transplant may be necessary. Early detection can make a critical difference in stopping or slowing kidney disease progression.

Twenty-six million Americans -- one in nine -- are currently living with kidney disease. Most don't know it. Are you the one?

What are you waiting for? If you're at risk, get your kidneys checked. For more information, visit the National Kidney Foundation.

Have a kidney question? Post it in the comments below and I'll be sure to answer.

For more by Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.