We diet. We exercise. We concern ourselves with our heart, lungs, and body in general. But we much less often think about our urinary tract – bladder, kidneys, and the rest. It’s something we just don’t pay attention to until something goes wrong. But the kidneys and bladder and the components that connect them play a vital role not just in eliminating urine but in our general well being.
The kidneys filter blood by removing waste products from cellular activity and produce urine that is stored in the bladder. But they do much more. They also release a compound (renin) that helps regulate blood pressure. They perform a vital role in balancing electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, that have wide ranging functions in the body. They determine overall fluid levels that affect blood pressure and more.
Unfortunately, we rarely pay attention to any of that until something goes wrong.
What goes wrong can range from upper and lower urinary tract infections – in the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra – to kidney stones and more. Those infections can be caused by a wide variety of things, such as E. coli bacteria or genetic factors that influence the immune system. Kidney stones can also be produced by a genetic abnormality or simply by inadequate fluid intake or excess protein consumption.
Diagnosing these problems can be as simple as a urinalysis performed on a urine sample or require complex technology like a multi-million dollar MRI machine. Treatments can range from doing nothing but drink a little extra water to a regimen of the most advanced drugs available.
Specific treatments, of course, depend on the exact problem. For simple cystitis or nephritis common antibiotics like amoxicillin can often do the trick. Sometimes treating the underlying disease, such as diabetes, can clear up any associated kidney or bladder problems. For more serious conditions, dialysis may be needed.
In the most extreme cases, a kidney transplant is called for. Like any major surgery, there are risks and benefits associated with it. But, thanks to new alternatives, such as improved medications, they are lower than in times past. Newer inventions, such as kidney-like devices worn on the outside of the body show promise of eliminating the need for dialysis or transplant entirely.
When urinary incontinence strikes, it can be treated with everything from low-risk drugs to physical exercise to improve muscle control. There are several different types and the exact form will, naturally, influence which course of action is required.
Of course, the best treatment is prevention and there are many ways of doing that for the entire urinary tract. Kidney health can be promoted by the proper diet, one that balances salts and regulates protein intake, among other things. Optimizing bladder health – to reduce the risk of cancer, interstitial cystitis, and other potential problems – is equally important. Good lifestyle choices, like moderate consumption of alcohol and coffee (which do have beneficial effects) can make this simple.
But the key to any prevention or treatment method is to be aware of the vital role the kidneys and bladder play in overall maintenance of the body’s health. Good health starts with good education.