THE BLOG
03/28/2013 08:20 am ET | Updated May 28, 2013

5 Surprising Ways You Could Be Damaging Your Kidneys

If you spend most evenings planted on the couch, chips in one hand and the remote in the other, you probably know you're not winning the healthy living award. While some habits are commonly accepted as unhealthy, there are other everyday behaviors that don't seem harmful but in actuality may be damaging your body. Could you be harming your kidneys without realizing it?

March is National Kidney Month, and there isn't a better time to learn more about these vital organs. Your kidneys keep the body healthy by regulating blood pressure and filtering out toxins and extra fluid from your blood. Damage to the kidneys is often irreversible, so in honor of National Kidney Month, find out the five surprising ways that you could be damaging your kidneys.

  1. Using painkillers for a long duration of time. Long-term use of certain pain medications, especially at high doses, has a harmful effect on kidney tissue and structures. Both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can damage and reduce blood flow to the kidneys. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a main culprit. As many as 1 to 3 percent of new cases of chronic kidney failure each year may be caused by pain medication overuse.
  2. Smoking cigarettes. The ramifications of smoking on the lungs and heart are well-publicized, but studies also show that people who smoke are more likely to have protein in the urine, which is a sign of kidney damage. Diseases that affect the kidneys, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are also exacerbated by smoking, and smokers are more likely to need dialysis or kidney transplants.
  3. Eating and drinking lots of sugar. It's probably pretty obvious that your morning doughnut and the candy bowl on your desk are overloaded with sugar, but sugar can be hiding in some surprising places. For example, it can lurk in your sandwich bread and even your salad dressing. Too much sugar can lead to health problems such as diabetes and obesity, both risk factors for kidney disease. Eliminating sugar from your diet or reducing your sugar intake can reduce your risk for diabetes, obesity and kidney disease. If you cut back on the processed sugars, you're also likely to lose calories, chemicals and sodium. Your waistline and your kidneys will thank you.
  4. Exposure to contrast dyes commonly used in imaging. It's important to make sure your physicians check your kidney function before you undergo any radiology procedures, such as CT scans, certain X-rays and angiograms. The dyes they must inject into your body to complete these tests can cause serious kidney problems, including Acute Kidney Injury or AKI. AKI results in an abrupt decrease in kidney function and occurs in up to 20 percent of all hospitalized patients and over 45 percent of patients in a critical care setting. Discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor before undergoing a procedure.
  5. Consuming high-sodium foods. Large quantities of sodium can increase blood pressure levels. High blood pressure damages the kidneys over time and is a leading cause of kidney failure. The typical American diet has been estimated to contain about 3,300 mg of sodium per day, a figure substantially higher than the 2,300 mg daily maximum (about a teaspoon of salt) recommended by the government for healthy adults. The figure drops to 1,500 mg each day for those with health conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease. Start by cutting back on processed foods and resisting the urge to pick up the salt shaker. Another way to lower your dietary salt intake is by following the DASH Diet. DASH is an acronym for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. A high salt intake coupled with obesity is a recipe for disaster. This combination is particularly potent at speeding the complications of high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease.

How do you plan to cut down on the ways you could be damaging your kidneys?

For more information on keeping your kidneys healthy, visit the National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org.

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

For more on personal health, click here.