Top 3 questions – World Kidney Day

Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, discusses World Kidney Day and how to keep your kidneys healthy.


Hello and welcome to today's Top 3. My name is Michael Kidd, I'm Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Government Department of Health. Today is World Kidney Day and all of this week is Healthy Kidney Week, and it's an important time of the year when we invite you to stop and think about your kidneys and what you can do to make sure that your kidneys are healthy. So, let's go to your questions.

The first question is, 'Why is kidney health important?' And it is a really good question. One of the biggest challenges that we have is a lack of awareness about our kidneys, about their function, and also about what can be the signs that kidneys are not healthy. So, let's go through some of the facts. Your kidneys are there to filter and remove waste from your body. Each minute about a litre of blood passes through your kidneys and is filtered and your kidneys remove waste products and fluid from your blood, and that becomes urine, which is then passed from your body. But your kidneys have other functions as well. They can be an important role in producing and in monitoring some of the hormones in your body, which help you to function normally. They function to control the level of fluids in your blood stream, to keep your fluid level at a correct level. And, also, they can help to control the levels of salt and other chemicals in your blood, and, again, this helps to keep you healthy and well. So, they are pretty amazing little organs. And when they are not functioning well, clearly these different functions don't proceed normally and people can become very seriously unwell. Now, the signs that people may be becoming unwell with kidney disease include becoming tired and weak, sometimes people get swelling, particularly of their feet, sometimes people notice a chance, a persistent change in the colour of their urine, and, also, people can develop dry or itchy skin. These are all signs of kidney failure, and if you develop kidney failure, obviously this needs to be treated, otherwise you can become very seriously unwell.

So, the next question is, 'How do I know if my kidneys are healthy or not?' And, again, it is a really good question, and one of the challenges again is that people can lose a lot of the function of their kidneys before they actually notice any changes. In fact, you can lose up to 90% of the function of your kidneys before you start to get changes indicating that you have serious kidney disease So, it is very important to know what are the risk factors for developing kidney disease, and there are two major risk factors: diabetes and hypertension, or high blood pressure. Diabetes is, obviously, where we have too much sugar in the bloodstream, and that can lead to damage to the kidneys as it can lead to damage to other major organs in the body. And high blood pressure can also lead to damage to the fine structures within the kidney, again, as can happen with damage to other vital organs inside you. There are other risk factors as well, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight or obese, people aged over 60, there are a number of risk factors, some people who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin are increased risk of kidney disease, but there can be people who have none of these risk factors who can still develop problems with their kidneys, and that's why it's important as part of a regular screen, particularly as you start to get older, that you have your kidney function checked along with checking your blood pressure and checking to make sure that you are not developing diabetes. If you do start to develop problems with your kidneys, very important that we pick it up as early as possible because often any problems can be either prevented from going any further or you can actually lead to improvements in your kidney function with appropriate treatment, and this may involve medications, it also may involve advice from a kidney specialist, a nephrologist. But there are other things you can do as well to keep your kidneys healthy, and they are all things that we normally do to keep ourselves healthy and well. So, having a healthy diet, drinking lots of fluids, not becoming dehydrated, doing some exercise every day, not smoking, only a moderate use of alcohol, these are all things that you can do to help to keep your kidneys functioning as well as possible.

The third question is, 'How do I know if my kidneys are at risk?' And fortunately, Kidney Health Australia has produced a risk assessment module on their website,, and if you go to you can go through that risk assessment to check and do a quick review of how healthy your kidneys are.

So, that is your Top 3 for today, and happy World Kidney Day to everybody and please make sure that you are looking after all aspects of your own health and well-being.

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  1. Why is kidney health important
  2. How do I know if my kidneys are healthy or not?
  3. How do I know if my kidneys are at risk?
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