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What is Kidney Disease?

You have two kidneys. They are bean-shaped, and about the size of a fist. They are located in the middle of your back, on the left and right sides of your spine, just below your rib cage. Their main job is to filter extra water and wastes out of your blood and make urine. They also help control blood pressure and make hormones that your body needs to stay healthy. Kidney disease means that the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body. It also can cause other problems that can harm your health. If kidney disease is not treated, it can lead to kidney failure. This means the kidneys stop working. Once the kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain health.

Risks for Kidney Disease.

Kidney disease is a growing problem. More than 20 million Americans may have kidney disease and many more are at risk. Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. You are at risk for kidney disease if you have:

  • Diabetes OR
  • High blood pressure OR
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease OR
  • A family history of kidney failure (your mother, father, sister, or brother had kidney disease or kidney failure).

Kidney disease is most often caused by diabetes or high blood pressure.

Diabetes and high blood pressure damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, so the kidneys are not able to filter the blood as well as they used to. Usually this damage happens slowly, over many years. As more and more blood vessels are damaged, the kidneys eventually stop working. More and more people are developing kidney disease as the number of people with diabetes grows.

African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians are at high risk for developing kidney failure. This risk is due in part to high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these communities. African Americans are almost four times as likely as Caucasians to develop kidney failure. And, while African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the population, they account for 32 percent of the people with kidney failure in the United States.

If you have any of the risk factors, ask your doctor or health care provider about getting tested. It is important to learn about the basics of kidney disease and how to keep the kidneys healthier longer.

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