How many kidneys do I have?

Most people are born with two kidneys. They are each about the size of a fist and are located in the back of your abdomen on either side of your spine. They are just beneath your lowest ribs. It is estimated that 1 out of every 750 children are born with only one kidney.

Do I need two kidneys?

No. We generally do not need all of the kidney function that two kidneys provide. We know that people with one kidney from birth are healthy and we know that we can take a kidney out of a living person and donate it to another person. At some point,  if your kidneys are affected by illness, their ability to function may be too little to keep you healthy.

What do my kidneys do?

The kidneys are complicated organs. Most people are aware that the kidneys filter waste to clean the blood. They filter roughly 180 liters (about 48 US gallons) of blood a day. The kidneys have other functions as well:

  • balance body fluid
  • balance minerals/electrolytes (such as potassium or magnesium)
  • help regulate acid-base balance 
  • produce the active form of vitamin D which is important for strong bones
  • produce hormones important for regulating blood pressure
  • produce a hormone that signals production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen)
  • remove medications from the body

            How is kidney disease diagnosed?

            Kidney disease is usually identified by a routine blood or urine test. Sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose and more information such as further blood testing, ultrasound or CT scan or even a kidney biopsy may be required. Unfortunately, symptoms of kidney failure are unreliable and cannot be used to tell if someone has a kidney problem. 

            If I am making normal amounts of urine, are my kidneys ok?

            Not necessarily. The kidneys are very powerful organs and can make urine even at low levels of function. Don't rely on your urine volume to tell you if your kidneys are healthy.

            What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

            Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a term used to describe a gradual loss of kidney function over time. In the United States, two-thirds of the cases of CKD are due to diabetes and high blood pressure. You may hear your doctor refer to CKD by a "stage". These stages are 1-5, with stage 5 being the weakest kidney function.  We are only communicating how fast the kidneys filter the blood. We know that people who are in the same stage have similar health concerns even if their CKD is caused by different conditions. Their kidneys may be performing all, some or none of their functions well depending on the stage.