The kidneys are one of the most important organs in the human body. Their functions are limitless and are vital to us for living a long healthy life. On a daily basis, the kidney’s functions include filtration of extra fluid and wastes from the blood; maintenance of healthy blood pressure; production of hormones for bone and blood health; and maintaining proper balance of minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorous in the blood.
A healthy individual has two healthy working kidneys on each side of their spinal column underneath their rib cage. However, because the kidneys’ functions are so various and important, they can become over exaggerated and overworked. When this happens, it causes damage to the kidneys and can lead to persons having kidney diseases or living with one kidney.
Why Is Someone Living with One Kidney?
There are a number of reasons why someone is living with one kidney; however, the three major reasons for this are listed below:
1. Some People Are Born With Only One
While this is a very rare condition and is more common in men than women, there is one in every 750 people who has born with only one kidney. This condition is more commonly known as renal agenesis and in most cases; it is the left kidney that the person is born without. Although the kidneys are vital organs in the body, it is possible for someone to live a happy, healthy life with only one and because of this, most cases of renal agenesis go undetected until a sonogram or x-ray is carried out. In more severe cases, however, the individuals born with renal agenesis is having only one kidney that is not functioning properly. In these situations, the condition is known as renal dysplasia.
2. A Kidney Is Removed Because of Health Issues
As was mentioned before, the kidneys always work overtime. Due to their constant work to filter waste from the body, one or both kidneys can become damaged; other diseases such as cancer can lead to kidney damage as well. When this happens, the bad or damaged kidney must be surgically removed in a procedure known as nephrectomy.
3. Others Choose to Donate Their Kidneys
In the year 1988-2008, approximately 87,000 kidneys were donated by people who either donated their kidneys to a family member or friend or donated it to someone on the national donors list. This is also one common cause for people living with one kidney.
Is Living with One Kidney Safe?
The thought of living with one kidney can be extremely scary; however, when the right precautions are taken, a life with only one kidney can be meaningful and safe with a normal life span. When there is only one kidney present, it will grow faster and becomes larger than if it was paired with another; because the kidney is heavier and much larger than if there were two, it is more vulnerable to damage and injury. In order to live with one kidney safely, it is important that you avoid certain chores that require heavy lifting and stay away from contact sports such as football, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey and boxing. Physical activities are always good for your health; however, the activities you participate in must be carefully chosen with your health condition in mind. If you must play heavy contact sport, it is highly recommended that you wear protective padding and must be as careful as possible when playing.
People with one kidney have little to no health issues at all; however, long-term complications have been diagnosed in individuals who were born with one kidney or had a kidney removed during childhood. Most doctors, therefore, recommend that these people should have frequent check-ups. Some conditions that may occur with the removal of the kidney in early childhood or in people born with one kidney include abnormal kidney functions; higher than normal blood pressure; and abnormal amount of proteins in the urine.
What Precautions Should People Take If Living with One Kidney?
A life with one kidney is not a death sentence. Following a regular routine that includes a healthy diet, exercise and regular doctor visits can extend your life sustainably. However, including the following precautions are also necessary and should be followed by everyone living with a single kidney:
1. Monitor the Efficiency of GFR
The kidney’s efficiency in removing waste from your bloodstream is measured by the Glomerular filtration rate or GFR. By monitoring this rate at least once a year, your doctor can determine if the remaining kidney is functioning the way it should be. The efficiency of the GFR is determined by a formula, taking in your gender, age, and race, amount of waste in the blood and serum creatinine.
2. Choose Sports Carefully
As mentioned before, one kidney can become larger and heavier than when it is paired. Based on numerous studies, one kidney does as much as 40% more work by itself. Therefore, participation in certain sports should be chosen carefully.
3. Keep an Eye on Blood Pressure
People living with one kidney have an increased risk for high blood pressure. These individuals should monitor their blood pressure closely and make their doctors aware of their conditions before going on any blood pressure medication.
4. Lessen the Intake of Protein
Loss of protein in the urine is common in people living with one kidney. This condition is known as proteinuria and it can cause the body and the blood to retain sodium and fluid, which in turn causes swollen abdomen and ankles. So patients may need to reduce protein intake for avoiding these problems.
5. More Precautions
- Keep your body hydrated in extremely hot weather and when playing sports or exercising.
- Symptoms of a urinary tract infection should be taken care of immediately.
- Avoid taking new prescriptions that weren’t prescribed or recommended by a doctor or pharmacist.
- Medications containing ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and acetaminophen are referred to as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and should be taken with caution because they may lead to kidney damage if consumed over long periods of time, in high doses or with codeine or caffeine.