The kidneys are a pair of organs which play a vital role in human health, and therefore disease as well. Under normal circumstances, everyone is born with 2 fist-sized, bean-shaped kidneys which lie just beneath the ribs and towards the back within the body on either side.

Within each kidney are unique structures called nephrons. Each kidney has about a million nephrons. These serve as the functional units of the kidney. Operatively, the kidneys can be imagined as giant filters with specialized functions, through which the body is cleansed of toxins, wastes, excess fluid and the like.

As intimated above, the kidneys do not just filter, but also have other specialized roles such as contributing to maintaining a proper level of haemoglobin (Hb), without which one would be anaemic, and maintaining good bone health, through their regulation of vitamin D.

For illustrative purposes one can imagine 2 giant sieves of very fine mesh on either side of the body richly supplied and interspersed by blood vessels. Beneath each sieve is a funnel- shaped receptacle to receive the filtered blood. Each hole/cell of the sieve/filter may be imagined as a nephron. Connecting either kidney are 2 tubes (ureters) emptying into a larger receptacle (urinary bladder), and draining this bladder is a faucet connected to the outside world (urethra). The diagrams below show the anatomy as described above.

Kidney health can be affected by any illness, toxin or process that either

    • - Damages the cells
    • - Damages their rich blood supply
    • - Reduces their blood supply
    • - Blocks the tubing
    • - Blocks the outlets,

Among many others, including a mixture of the above processes.

It follows therefore that anything that will affect blood flow to the kidneys, block or damage the nephrons, the ureters, or the fine network of blood that is within the kidney can adversely affect kidney function and health.


Kidneys play a vital role in maintaining overall health by filtering waste products and excess fluids from the blood, regulating blood pressure, producing hormones, and balancing electrolytes.

Thusly, we advocate good hydration to ensure adequate blood flow, good nutrition to ensure good cell health, avoidance of substances and chemicals that are potentially toxic to the kidney cells (nephrotoxins) and a good handle on risk factors including hypertension and diabetes. Hypertension, which we will describe here as chronically elevated high blood pressure, can damage the kidneys in multiple ways.

If one imagines the blood vessels as delicate pipes lined with living cells, it stands to reason that persistently elevated pressures within these vessels will damage and narrow these vital supply lines, which are carrying oxygen, nutrients and other important substances to the kidneys.

Similarly, diabetes, in which there is chronic abnormally elevated blood sugar damages the cells lining the blood vessels eventually leading to a compromise in their structure and function. These conditions, when left poorly-controlled can damage the kidneys via their effects on the nephrons, blood vessels, or both. Diabetes remains the leading cause of kidney disease leading to dialysis worldwide.

In Ghana, hypertension and diabetes are leading causes of kidney disease. Poorly treated infections of the kidney, post-infectious inflammatory diseases of the kidney and obstruction to urine flow from abnormal growths of other organs also contribute significantly to the burden of kidney disease in Ghana.

It is important that early damage to the kidneys is identified and managed well in good time to prevent poor outcomes. In summary, maintaining kidney health involves good nutrition, good hydration, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, adequate control of hypertension, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and avoidance of nephrotoxins. Regular wellness exams are encouraged, and scheduled reviews are a must in people with underlying chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Speak to your primary care physician for more information today.