Kidney Diseases in Childhood
The kidneys play a critical role in the body: Acting as the body's filtering system, they help control water levels and eliminate wastes through urine. They also help regulate blood pressure, red blood cell production, and the levels of calcium and minerals.
But sometimes the kidneys don't develop properly and, as a result, don't function as they should. Often these problems are genetic and not due to anything a parent did or didn't do.
Many of these problems can be diagnosed before a baby is born through routine prenatal testing and treated with medication or surgery while the child is still young. Other problems may emerge later, such as symptoms of urinary infections, growth retardation, high blood pressure, etc. In some cases, the problems are more severe and require more extensive surgical treatment.
How the Kidneys Work
The kidneys are like the body's garbage collection and disposal system. Through microscopic units called nephrons, the kidneys remove waste products and extra water from the food a person eats, returning chemicals the body needs (such as sodium, phosphorus, and potassium) back into the bloodstream. The extra water combines with other waste to become urine, which flows through thin tubes called ureters to the bladder, where it stays until it exits through the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder) when someone goes to the bathroom.
The kidneys also produce three important hormones: erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells; renin, which helps regulate blood pressure; and the active form of vitamin D, which helps control the calcium balance in the body and maintain healthy bones.
Kidney failure, which is also called renal failure, is when the kidneys slow down or stop properly filtering wastes from the body, which can cause buildups of waste products and toxic substances in the blood. Kidney failure can be acute (which means sudden) or chronic (occurring over time and usually long lasting or permanent).
Acute kidney injury (previously called acute kidney failure) may be due to bacterial infection, injury, shock, heart failure, poisoning, or drug overdose. Treatment includes correcting the problem that led to the kidney injury, and in some cases dialysis is required.
- Chronic kidney failure involves a deterioration of kidney function over time. In kids and teens, it can result from acute kidney failure that fails to improve, birth defects, chronic kidney diseases, or chronic severe high blood pressure. If diagnosed early, chronic kidney failure can be treated. The goal of treatment usually is to slow the decline of kidney function with medication, blood pressure control, and diet. At some point, a kidney transplant may be required.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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