Now for the renal side of the story

Prevention and early detection of kidney disease could save your life.

The kidneys get no respect. We talk of "lion hearts," "leather lungs," and even "iron stomachs," but the kidneys go unheralded — that is, until they go wrong. The pair of bean-shaped organs go quietly about their complex business of cleansing the blood of waste products, dumping excess water, regulating hormone levels, adjusting blood pressure, and ordering new red blood cells. Only when their function is impaired do the kidneys attract real notice. Then suddenly they loom very large.

We need to pay closer attention to our kidneys. Experts say that 20 million Americans have some form of chronic kidney disease, including over 7 million with less than half the kidney function rate of a young adult. That's considered "moderate" impairment. Severe impairment begins when the function level is less than 25% of the norm. When it falls below 10%–15%, end-stage renal disease — in other words, kidney failure — begins.

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