Only One?

Loads of good things have been happening in my family lately, among them a couple of marriages. That, of course, brings new people into the family. There’s always that obligatory meet-the-new-in-laws dinner.  At one of these, a just added family member mentioned that she only had one kidney. Then she asked me what that means as far as Chronic Kidney Disease… and I didn’t know. Today’s blog is for her.

Let’s jump right in with this explanation from the U.S. Department of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/solitary-kidney.

When a person has only one kidney or one working kidney, this kidney is called a solitary kidney. People born with kidney dysplasia have both kidneys; however, one kidney does not function (top right). When a kidney is removed surgically due to disease or for donation, both the kidney and ureter are removed (bottom right).

Well that was pretty straight forward. I wondered if she should be taking any kind of special cautions. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, PubMed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16985610,

Removal of one kidney leads to structural and functional changes by the remaining kidney, including increased filtration of the remaining glomeruli. These functional changes have generally been considered beneficial because they mitigate the reduction in the total glomerular filtration rate that would otherwise occur, but experimental evidence suggests that these changes may have an adverse effect on the remaining kidney.

That sounded great… until I got to ‘adverse effect.’ So, naturally, I wanted to know what they meant. The Kidney and Urology Foundation of America, Inc. at http://www.kidneyurology.org/Library/Kidney_Health/Solitary_Kidney.php told me what I wanted to know.

If having a single kidney does affect your health, the changes are likely to be so small and happen so slowly that you won’t notice them. Over long periods of time, however, these gradual changes may require specific measures or treatments. Changes that may result from a single kidney include the following:

  • High blood pressure. Kidneys help maintain a healthy blood pressure by regulating how much fluid flows through the bloodstream and by making a hormone called renin that works with other hormones to expand or contract blood vessels. Many people who lose or donate a kidney are found to have slightly higher blood pressure after several years.
  • Proteinuria. Excessive protein in the urine, a condition known as proteinuria, can be a sign of kidney damage. People are often found to have higher-than-normal levels of protein in their urine after they have lived with one kidney for several years.
  • Reduced GFR. The glomerular filtration rate (GFR) shows how efficiently your kidneys are removing wastes from your bloodstream. People have a reduced GFR if they have only one kidney.

In the nephron …, tiny blood vessels intertwine with urine-collecting tubes. Each kidney contains about 1 million nephrons.

You can have high blood pressure, proteinuria, and reduced GFR and still feel fine. As long as these conditions are under control, they will probably not affect your health or longevity. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor to monitor these conditions.

Wait a minute! Those are also the effects of Chronic Kidney Disease. And as you read on, you’ll see that the precautions are the same as those for someone who already has CKD.

What, then, is my new in-law supposed to do since she has a solitary kidney? I went to Medic8, a new site for me, at http://www.medic8.com/kidney-disorders/solitary-kidney.htm for the following suggestions.

Monitoring

Your doctor should monitor your kidney function by checking your blood pressure and testing your urine and blood once a year.

  • Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or lower. You have high blood pressure if it is over 140/90. People with kidney disease or one kidney should keep their blood pressure below 130/80. Controlling blood pressure is especially important because high blood pressure can damage kidneys.
  • Your doctor may use a strip of special paper dipped into a little cup of your urine to test for protein. The colour of the “dipstick” indicates the presence or absence of protein. A more sensitive test for proteinuria involves laboratory measurement and calculation of the protein-to-creatinine ratio. A high protein-to-creatinine ratio in urine (greater than 30 milligrams of albumin per 1 gram of creatinine) shows that kidneys are leaking protein that should be kept in the blood.
  • … scientists have discovered that they can estimate a person’s GFR based on the amount of creatinine in a small blood sample. The new GFR calculation uses the patient’s creatinine measurement along with weight, age, and values assigned for sex and race. …. If your GFR stays consistently below 60, you are considered to have chronic kidney disease.

Controlling Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is above normal, you should work with your doctor to keep it below 130/80. Great care should be taken in selecting blood pressure medicines for people with a solitary kidney. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are two classes of blood pressure medicine that protect kidney function and reduce proteinuria. But these medicines may be harmful to someone with renal artery stenosis (RAS), which is the hardening of the arteries that enter the kidneys. Diuretics can help control blood pressure by removing excess fluid in the body. Controlling your blood pressure may require a combination of two or more medicines, plus changes in diet and activity level.

Eating Sensibly

Having a single kidney does not mean that you have to follow a special diet. You simply need to make healthy choices, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and low-fat dairy foods. Limit your daily salt (sodium) intake to 2,000 milligrams or less if you already have high blood pressure. Reading nutrition labels on packaged foods to learn how much sodium is in one serving and keeping a sodium diary can help. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake as well.

Avoid high-protein diets. Protein breaks down into the waste materials that the kidneys must remove, so excessive protein puts an extra burden on the kidneys. Eating moderate amounts of protein is still important for proper nutrition. A dietitian can help you find the right amount of protein in your diet.

Avoiding Injury

…. Having a solitary kidney should not automatically disqualify you from sports participation. Children should be encouraged to engage in some form of physical activity, even if contact sports are ruled out. Protective gear such as padded vests worn under a uniform can make limited contact sports like basketball or soccer safe. Doctors, parents, and patients should consider the risks of any activity and decide whether the benefits outweigh those risks.

I am happy to say I think our new relative is going to find this a comforting blog. I know I did.

Oh, talking about one. I have one desk copy of the now retired The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2 left. Leave a comment if you’d like to have it. All I ask is that you not have received a free book from me before.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

 

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