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Keeping Kidneys Healthy

Thursday is World Kidney Day, which is being promoted in the United States by the National Kidney Foundation.

One in nine American adults has chronic kidney disease, and it's on the rise, according to the latest federal statistics.

The foundation reminds us to check out our family histories to get the earliest possible warning that we might be at risk for kidney disease.

That's one of several risk factors people should check.

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The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay offered guidelines to help us safeguard our kidney health.

She explained that the kidneys are a primary place in the body where the blood is cleansed and purified. Tiny structures inside the kidneys remove harmful waste products from the blood. The kidneys also balance the body's fluids, release hormones that regulate blood pressure, control the production of red blood cells, and even produce a form of vitamin D that helps strengthen bones.

Over time, reduced kidney function can sap a person's strength, affect mental functioning, and cause muscle cramps and swelling.

Without a transplant, or an imperfect substitute such as dialysis, severe or complete kidney failure is fatal.

Senay said that, as with other diseases, the earlier it can be spotted, the better. Early-stage kidney disease often produces no symptoms.

Just this week, a very simple new checklist of risk factors was published in Archives of Internal Medicine. It assigns a point system to factors such as age and gender.

If you're older or a woman then your risk is considered higher. The list also includes a history of cardiovascular or circulatory disease, diabetes and a history of abnormalities such as anemia or urine in the blood. Getting above a certain number of points doesn't mean you have kidney disease, but it's a sign that you and your doctor should pay attention to that possibility. And it's a list the authors say you should recheck every year, for a sense of whether your risk has risen with time.

You should review your family history, Senay stressed. If close blood relatives have suffered from kidney disease, that's something you should tell your doctor. You also should report if a relative has suffered from diabetes or high blood pressure, even if their kidneys are OK. Since both of those conditions can produce kidney damage, if you're at high risk for them, your kidneys may be at added risk as well.

Steps the foundation recommends to minimize your risk of kidney disease include watching your weight, getting enough exercise, limiting your salt and alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. Also beware that, if your kidneys are already under stress, taking large quantities of painkillers such as naproxen and ibuprofen can accelerate the damage.

Senay added that World Kidney Day offers opportunities for people to check their kidneys. In 23 cities across the country, the foundation is sponsoring free screenings today.

If you learn today, or at any point in the future, that you are at risk, you and your doctor will want to work closely together, to be sure you do all you can to prevent kidney disease from developing.

The foundation also offers a quiz on kidney health, which you can get to by clicking here.

For more from the foundation about World Kidney Day, click here.

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