Kidneys filter waste from the blood, remove excess water from the body, maintain the proper balance of salts and acids in the body and produce vital hormones that control blood pressure, bone strength and the production of red blood cells.
Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys can no longer remove waste and maintain the level of fluid and salts that the body needs. The incidence of kidney disease is currently four to six times higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities than it is in the non-Indigenous Australian population.
Acute kidney failure, when the kidneys fail suddenly, is usually only temporary. Permanent, or chronic, kidney failure usually progresses slowly and is the most common type of kidney damage.
End-stage kidney disease occurs when the kidney fails to function and the person must go onto dialysis (a procedure that cleans the blood) or receive a transplant. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders tend to develop end-stage kidney disease earlier than non-Indigenous people, and those living in remote areas are up to 30 times more likely to develop the disease.
At the beginning of this year, almost 1500 people were on the waiting list for a new kidney, and about one person a week dies while waiting for a transplant.
Early warning signs of kidney disease can include a change in frequency and quantity of urine passed, especially at night; pain or burning when passing urine; blood in the urine; puffiness around the eyes and ankles; pain in the kidney area and tiredness.
However, a person can lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before feeling sick.
Various conditions affect kidney function, including high blood pressure, diabetes, urinary tract infections and kidney damage as a side-effect of medication, particularly pain-killers. If you have any of these conditions, it is important to see your doctor.
Smoking, weight-problems, birth weight, infections and alcohol or drug consumption all affect kidney disease as well.
The health of your kidneys can be looked after by having your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checked once a year.
Kidney disease can be diagnosed with a blood test and early detection can save your life.
For more information, go to www.kidney.org.au or call the kidney health info line on 1800 682 531.