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5 things you can do to look after your kidneys today

Two cartoon kidneys with legs and arms stand looking sad.
Kidney disease is often called a 'silent disease' because it often doesn't cause symptoms until it has progressed significantly.

Your kidneys play a very important role in your overall health. They’re so important that most people are born with two of them, just in case something happens to one.

Hidden away at the back of your abdomen, it’s likely you haven’t put a lot of thought into caring for your kidneys. But these vital organs can do with a little TLC, and luckily, the things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy will benefit your overall health too.

What are kidneys?

Your kidneys are two organs that sit in your abdomen on either side of your backbone. They’re about the size of a fist and shaped like a bean.

Your kidneys are responsible for cleaning your blood. They process your blood to sort out excess fluids, unwanted chemicals and waste, and turn these into urine. Every hour, your entire blood supply cycles through your kidneys 12 times, which adds up to about 200L of blood each day!

Your kidneys work hard, day and night, to keep you healthy. As well as cleaning your blood, they also help regulate your blood pressure, balance the amount of water in your body, and manage your body’s production of vitamin D.

For more information about the intricate workings of your kidneys, head to the Kidney Health Australia website.

A woman holds two plastic model kidneys up against her abdomen.

5 things you can do to look after your kidneys

1. Watch out for signs of kidney disease

A person with kidney disease has progressive loss of function of their kidneys. Kidney disease is sometimes called a ‘silent disease’ because it often doesn’t cause symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly. It’s not uncommon for people to have lost up to 90% of their kidney function before experiencing symptoms of kidney disease.

Keep an eye out for the below signs and symptoms of kidney disease, and if you have any concerns, see your doctor.

Signs of reduced kidney function can include:

  • high blood pressure
  • change in how often you need to go to the toilet and how much urine you produce
  • changes to your urine – for example frothy or foaming urine
  • blood in your urine
  • increased puffiness around your legs, ankles or eyes
  • pain in the kidney area (lower back)
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulties sleeping
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating
  • itching
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting
  • bad breath and having a metallic taste in the mouth
  • muscle cramps
  • pins and needles in the fingers or toes.

Many of these symptoms are quite general or vague, and may point to other illnesses or conditions. It’s important to talk to your GP about how you’re feeling, so they can rule out kidney disease or other issues.

If you have one or more risk factors for kidney disease, Kidney Health Australia recommends seeing your GP for a Kidney Health Check every two years.

A young woman sits at a home office desk, stretching out her lower back.

2. Quit smoking

People who smoke are more likely to develop kidney disease and kidney cancer, so quitting now is a great step for your future kidney health. Quitting smoking has benefits for your entire body – find out more about how to quit here.

3. Watch your blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for developing kidney disease, because it can cause damage to the arteries and blood vessels in and around the kidneys. Talk to your GP about testing your blood pressure regularly to make sure it’s at a healthy level.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may talk to you about ways to manage it, including:

Some people with high blood pressure will need to take medication to manage their condition.

4. Manage diabetes

According to Kidney Health Australia, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in Australia. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, speak with your doctor about how to manage your condition and monitor your kidney health. You can assess your risk of developing diabetes, and learn how to reduce your risk, using tools on the Diabetes Australia website.

A woman and man each drink from glasses of water.

5. Drink water instead

Drinking water regularly throughout the day helps your kidneys to function properly and stay healthy.

Water is the best choice of fluid to drink throughout the day. It contains no kilojoules, salt or sugar, and is the natural way to hydrate your body. Mineral waters, cordials, fruit concentrates, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks can all contain high levels of salt and sugar, while drinks that contain phosphoric acid (often used in cola drinks and beer) might promote kidney stones. Keep these drinks for special occasions and reach for water instead when you’re thirsty during the day.

Keep in mind that feeling thirsty is the body’s first sign that you’re already dehydrated. Small, frequent drinks of water throughout the day will keep you hydrated. Remember to drink more if you’re in a hot climate, exercising, breastfeeding or pregnant.

Last updated: 8 March 2023