The back of a Black man placing his hand on his waist near his kidneys

Don’t neglect your kidneys: Why they’re more important than you think

May 30, 2024

Your kidneys work hard, filtering waste and excess fluid from your blood to keep you healthy. But like other organs, your kidneys are vulnerable to disease and damage, especially as you age. Being proactive about kidney health through preventative steps and kidney function testing allows you to take charge of this vital organ before problems arise.


The role of kidneys in removing waste

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in your lower back, just above the waist. Their main job is to filter waste products and excess fluid from your blood. Every 30 minutes, the kidneys filter all the blood in the body to remove urea (a waste substance that forms after the liver breaks down protein) and other waste materials that are then excreted as urine. The kidneys also regulate the levels of electrolytes like sodium, potassium and phosphate, while producing hormones that control blood pressure, red blood cell production and calcium absorption.


When the kidneys are damaged by disease, their ability to properly filter blood declines. Waste then builds up in the blood, causing a condition known as chronic kidney disease (CKD). According to the National Kidney Foundation, CKD affects 37 million U.S. adults. Despite the prevalence of CKD, the vast majority of people with this condition don’t know they have it. This is primarily because early kidney disease often has no symptoms, making it more important than ever to know the risk factors for CKD and take preventative steps to protect your kidney health.


Risk factors for CKD

There are a number of risk factors that increase your chances of developing CKD. These include:

  • Diabetes: Poorly controlled blood sugar levels damage the kidneys over time
  • High blood pressure: Increased pressure damages blood vessels in kidneys
  • Heart disease: Heart disease and kidney diseases often coexist
  • Obesity: Excess weight strains the kidneys
  • Advancing age: Kidney function declines naturally with age
  • Family history: Genetics may increase the risk of kidney disease
  • Personal history of kidney problems: Previous kidney damage is a risk factor for CKD
  • Smoking: Smoking worsens kidney damage

CKD may also disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic, Asian American, Pacific Islander and American Indian individuals, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk of developing CKD, and the more crucial it is to stay on top of your kidney health.

Pursuing preventive kidney care

Since kidney disease often has no pain or other obvious symptoms, the best way to take charge of your kidney health is through preventive steps and testing. You can work with your healthcare provider to manage risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure. Leading an overall healthy lifestyle also benefits your kidneys. This includes:

  • Eating a kidney-friendly diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats
  • Staying well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking

Along with lifestyle habits, it is important to consider getting your kidney function tested periodically, depending on your health and risk factors. Labcorp OnDemand's Kidney Health Test includes multiple markers that measure overall kidney function and can help you spot early signs of possible kidney disease or damage. Detecting any issues early allows you and your provider to address them promptly before they become serious.

Take control of your health by caring for your kidneys. Preventive testing and lifestyle choices support kidney function now and as you age.