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March is National Kidney Month

March is National Kidney Month, the perfect time to focus on these powerful organs that help keep our bodies healthy. 

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs located in the midsection of the body, one on the left and one on the right.  They are about the size of your fist.  Our kidneys remove liquid waste and salt from the body.  The kidneys do this by filtering the blood and extracting the waste, which in turn produces urine. 

Human kidney medical diagram

Our kidneys are a remarkably efficient filtration system: they filter all the blood in our bodies every 30 minutes!  Each day, they filter up to 150 quarts of blood and produce a couple of quarts of urine.  Since kidneys play such a vital role in our health, it’s important to see a specialist if something goes wrong with them.  

Doctors who specialize in kidney health (also called renal health) are known as nephrologists.  Privia Medical Group North Texas has four nephologists in the group, with offices throughout the region to serve patients with kidney-related health issues. 

There are several health conditions that can affect the kidneys. 

At Texas Health Care, our expert kidney specialists are available in multiple locations throughout Texas. Visit our provider page with over 150 doctors to schedule a consultation.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a serious condition that is all too common.  CKD occurs when the kidneys can no longer filter blood as effectively as they once did.  This can result in excess waste and fluid remaining in the body. CKD may also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, anemia and other health problems.

CKD is a leading cause of death in the United States.  An estimated 14% of American adults have CKD, and the vast majority of them do not know they have it.  CKD can affect anyone, but people over 65, women and Black adults are more at risk than other demographic groups. 

Causes of CKD

CKD is often indicative of one or more underlying health conditions.  It is atypical for an otherwise healthy person to be diagnosed with CKD.  The most common conditions associated with CKD are hypertension and diabetes.  Family history can also play a role. 

Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease.  In fact, about 25% of all diabetics also have kidney disease.   One of the dangers of diabetes is that high levels of glucose, or blood sugar, damage the kidneys over time.  There is a strong link between kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, a condition known as cardiovascular-kidney-metabolic syndrome (CKM). 

The linkage between diabetes, CKD and heart disease has come into sharper focus in recent years.  Health care providers increasingly treat patients who have diabetes and CKD with a wholistic approach geared to improving both kidney and heart health.  Eating more fruits and vegetables, getting exercise, not smoking and watching body weight form the foundation of this approach. 

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the second-leading cause of kidney disease.  Over time, hypertension damages blood vessels throughout the body, including in the kidneys.  When this happens, the kidneys may not function as well as they used to.   

Together, diabetes and hypertension cause about 74% of all cases of CKD. 

“Managing diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels in the target range and lowering blood pressure levels are two of the most important things someone at risk of kidney disease can do,” explains Dr. Fysal Albaalbaki, a nephrologist with offices in multiple locations in Fort Worth and Weatherford. 

Symptoms of CKD

Chronic kidney disease does not usually produce symptoms in its early stages.  That’s why people who have significant risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, need to be screened regularly for CKD. When symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • A need to urinate more frequently
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Decreased appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Urine that appears foamy or bubbly
  • Swelling in hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea

Diagnosis & Treatment

CKD is diagnosed through blood and urine tests.  The blood test indicates the level of creatinine, a waste byproduct of the muscles. The urine test will check for protein levels.  If either substance is abnormally high, this could be an indication of kidney damage.   

For people who are diagnosed with CKD, there are several measures they can take to manage the disease and slow its progression.  Those include:

  • If diabetic, keep your A1C readings – three-month averages of glucose levels – within your goal range, as established by your physician. 
  • Work to keep blood pressure within goal, as established by your physician
  • Eat healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid foods with high levels of sodium
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep your cholesterol within the recommended range, as established by your physician
  • Lose weight if overweight
  • Take any prescribed medications for diabetes and hypertension
  • If you smoke, quit

“While CKD does often get worse over time, we are able treat it,” says Dr. Carlos Bahrami, a nephrologist practicing in Fort Worth and Weatherford.  “With CKD, the earlier treatment begins, the better the odds of slowing the progression of the disease – that’s why regular screening for those at increased risk is so important.”

Kidney Failure

At an advanced stage, chronic kidney disease can cause kidney failure.  Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to filter blood, causing waste and fluid buildup in the body. 

There are three treatments for kidney failure:


In this process, blood is filtered through a machine outside the body.  A needle is inserted into the arm to remove the blood. After it has filtered through a dialyzer to remove waste, salt and unwanted fluids, the blood is returned to the body through a second needle.  Hemodialysis is usually conducted three times per week and treatments can last between three and five hours.  Many patients go to a dialysis clinic for treatment, but in-home dialysis is also an option for some patients.  Your physician can help you decide which choice is better for you.

Peritoneal Dialysis

This form of dialysis uses the lining of the abdominal cavity to filter the blood.  A special solution is placed in the abdomen that serves to filter waste from the blood, which is then drained from the body.  Peritoneal dialysis is done at home and often when the patient is sleeping at night. 

Kidney Transplant

Doctors can transplant a kidney from a healthy person to a patient with kidney failure.  Sometimes the transplanted kidney is thanks to an organ donor who has died. In other cases, a friend or family member may donate a kidney to a loved one, as people only need one kidney to live normally. 

In a kidney transplant, the new kidney is placed in the front lower abdomen.  The old, damaged kidneys usually remain where they are as the transplanted kidney takes over the work of filtering the blood.  Special medications are administered following a kidney transplant to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.   

“It is not unusual for people to wait years for a kidney transplant,” says Dr. Thomas Rajan, a nephrologist with offices in Fort Worth and Weatherford.  “That’s why a patient with kidney failure will need to undergo dialysis treatment while on the transplant waiting list.”  Even after a successful kidney transplant, the kidney disease is not cured – the transplant is a form of treatment, and careful monitoring of renal health is important. 

Other Kidney Issues

Chronic kidney disease is not the only condition that can affect the kidneys.  Other kidney ailments include:

Kidney Stones

Kidney stonescan develop if mineral deposits build up in the kidneys.  Men over the age of 40 are generally more susceptible to kidney stones.  Symptoms of kidney stones include a sharp pain in the back, side, abdomen or groin, as well as blood in urine.  Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention. 

Kidney stones are quite painful but are usually passed through urine without causing any permanent harm.  In some cases, surgery may be required to remove them.  Drinking plenty of water each day is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones. 

Kidney Infections

Kidney infections are a dangerous type of urinary tract infection (UTI).  Women are at greater risk for kidney infections.  The UTI generally develops in another part of the urinary tract, such as the urethra or bladder, and travels up into the kidneys.  Kidney infections are very serious and must be treated immediately. 

Symptoms of a kidney infection include fever, back pain and a frequent and painful urge to urinate.  Kidney infections are generally treated with antibiotics and require hospitalization.  If not treated promptly, a kidney infection can spread to the bloodstream, a life-threatening condition. 

Kidney Cancer

Cancer of the kidney is relatively rare.  The leading cause of kidney cancer is smoking.  Symptoms of kidney cancer may include a lump or mass in the abdomen, blood in the urine, pain in the side or lower back that does not go away, and recurring fever. 

You Need Your Kidneys – Take Care of Them!

If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or hypertension, it is especially important to work with your physician to manage those conditions and have your kidney health checked regularly. 

“Our kidneys are instrumental to our overall good health, so it’s important we take care of them!” says Dr. Naseem Sunnoqrot, a nephrologist with office locations in Fort Worth and Weatherford.  “We can help protect our kidneys the same way we protect our hearts: by eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise and drinking plenty of water.” 

At Texas Health Care, our team of expert nephrologists and kidney specialists are dedicated to providing exceptional care. With multiple locations throughout Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington, our physicians offer comprehensive kidney care services. Visit our provider page with over 150 doctors to schedule a consultation and learn more about our kidney health services.

This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

The Mayo Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic

American Journal of Kidney Diseases

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