the prairie doc

Like Rodney, kidneys don’t get no respect


The kidneys may be called the Rodney Dangerfield of the body, as they often “don’t get no respect.” The National Kidney Foundation estimates that one in three adult Americans are at risk for kidney disease, yet these organs are mostly ignored unless they develop stones or stop working.

When healthy, kidneys work continuously at their main job of filtering blood to remove unwanted products and help produce urine. Kidneys clean approximately 200 liters of blood each day removing up to two liters of toxins, waste and water in the process. Perhaps less well known is the fact that the kidneys are essential for many other functions in the body as well, including managing blood pressure and preventing anemia.

Kidneys release the hormone renin, which is part of the complex renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, or RAAS, instrumental in helping regulate blood pressure. RAAS regulates sodium and potassium absorption in the kidneys and balances fluid and electrolyte levels in the body, all of which have a direct impact on blood pressure.

When treating patients whose blood pressure does not respond to medications, heart doctors will examine RAAS function. They may also order an ultrasound of the kidneys. Sometimes, this reveals a narrowing of the artery going into the kidneys which may be responsible for treatment-resistant high blood pressure.

Kidneys also secrete a hormone called erythropoietin, which acts on bone marrow to help the body produce red blood cells. Without this hormone, people can develop anemia.

Vitamin D is converted to its active form by the kidneys, allowing the body to use the vitamin to its advantage. Thanks to the kidneys, vitamin D helps balance calcium and phosphorus absorbed from the foods we eat. Without enough calcium, people can develop weakening of the bones and muscles.

Kidneys complete these and many other functions so efficiently that a healthy person can donate one and the remaining kidney will do the work of two. They work hard to help us, so let’s do our fair share to help them. If you have diabetes, work to control it as best you can because high blood sugars can damage your kidneys. And one thing all of us can do for our kidneys is to stay hydrated.

There is no doubt that kidneys deserve more respect. Talk to your doctor about blood tests or urine tests to check your kidney’s health and functionality. Kidneys…let’s show them some respect!

Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.


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