Meet your kidneys!

One in every three Australian adults is at increased risk of developing kidney disease, while one in 10 has the disease and many may not even know it.

Despite these figures, most people are largely unaware of the critical role the kidneys play in keeping the body healthy and the crucial need to get their kidneys checked every 12 months, according to Kidney Health Australia, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping people with kidney disease to improve their health outcomes and quality of life.

The kidneys are a vital organ – just like the heart, brain, or lungs – if they shut down, your body shuts down.  Kidney Health Australia says it’s important that “Australians meet their kidneys, so that they can understand the devastating impact that sick kidneys have on the body, and learn about the links between kidney disease and other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure – one of the most common causes of kidney disease”.

Prevention and early detection is critical, and all Australians – particularly those at increased risk – are encouraged to speak to their GP or pharmacist about checking the health of their kidneys before it’s too late.

Fact: Every day, more than 60 Australians die with kidney related disease – that’s more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer or road traffic accidents.

Risk factors for kidney disease

Whilst there are some risk factors you can’t change, like being aged over 60, there are other risk factors that you can control. Diseases such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) are both major risk factors for kidney disease. In Australia today there are more than 5 million people at risk of kidney disease because of these two risk factors alone.

Smoking is also a major risk factor for developing kidney disease. Other factors that increase your risk of developing kidney disease include having a close relative with kidney failure, having a history of heart attack, heart failure or stroke, being obese, or being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

How do kidneys work?

Most people are born with two kidneys - bean-shaped organs sitting in your back that weigh around 150g each and are about the size of a fist. Kidneys play a major role in your general health and wellbeing – think of them as an extremely sophisticated waste disposal system which helps to clean your blood. Every hour, your body’s blood supply circulates through the kidneys around 12 times, removing the waste into your urine. The kidneys also play a role in important body systems which help to regulate your blood pressure, maintain healthy bones, and help to activate Vitamin D.

When things go wrong with your kidneys

Many people living with kidney disease show no signs or symptoms of decreasing kidney function, which means kidney disease often goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated. It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Australians may be affected by kidney disease and not know it.

Symptoms, if they are present, may include feeling sick, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may also include changes in the amount and number of times urine is passed, extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, swelling of the hands, face and feet, headaches, high blood pressure and blood in the urine. These symptoms may worsen gradually as kidney function declines. However, the symptoms are very general and may be caused by other illness.

Early detection and appropriate management of chronic kidney disease can significantly slow the otherwise inevitable decline in kidney function. A kidney health check involves simple blood and urine tests which can be performed by your Doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms of kidney disease, or have one or more of the risk factors for developing kidney disease, ask your doctor for a kidney health check. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure your doctor should perform a kidney health check every year.

Focus on blood pressure


One of the key jobs of the kidneys is to maintain healthy blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood in your arteries, as it is pumped around your body by your heart. Your blood pressure changes to meet the demands of your body. It is usually at its highest when you exercise and at its lowest when you sleep.

Why is high blood pressure a problem?

When you have high blood pressure, blood is regularly being pumped throughout your body with greater force than is healthy for your heart and arteries to handle, which causes damage to both. If your kidneys aren’t working properly your blood pressure can rise, which puts you at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

What are the recommended blood pressure levels?

To reduce your risk of developing Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or experiencing a cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke) it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, and to maintain it below the recommended levels:

  • The optimal blood pressure level for the general population is below 120/80 mmHg
  • If you have albuminuria or diabetes you should maintain a blood pressure consistently below 130/80 mmHg
  • If you have kidney disease you should maintain a blood pressure consistently below 140/90 mmHg

Tips for maintaining a healthy blood pressure

  • Maintain a healthy body weight and cholesterol level
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Exercise regularly
  • Be a non-smoker
  • Have a kidney health check at least once a year
  • Know your recommended blood pressure levels and have your blood pressure checked regularly
  • If you are taking medications for blood pressure make sure you take them exactly as directed

Take the test..

Click here to take Kidney Health Australia’s simple Q&A test to see whether you’re at risk of developing kidney disease.