Learning About Your Kidneys

Skip Navigation
How the kidneys work

What do your kidneys do?

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs. Each one is about the size of your fist. They are part of your internal organs. They are located in the back on either side of your spine.

Your kidneys are protected by your ribs.

The kidneys do three main things in your body:

  • Remove wastes. They filter waste products and extra fluid out of your blood. These wastes leave your body through your urine.
  • Balance the fluids and chemicals in your body. The kidneys keep the right balance of fluids and chemicals your body needs.
  • Produce hormones. They make hormones that help your body make red blood cells. Hormones also manage your blood pressure, build healthy bones, and keep your muscles working as they should.

What problems can happen to your kidneys?

High blood pressure and diabetes can lead to kidney problems. These include kidney infections and chronic kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease means that for some time your kidneys have not been working the way they should.

Some medicines can also lead to kidney damage.

Other kidney problems include kidney stones and kidney cancer.

How can you prevent kidney problems?

Many kidney problems come from other conditions. These include high blood pressure and diabetes. If you take steps to manage these, your kidneys can be healthier.

A healthy lifestyle may help prevent kidney problems:

  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting more exercise.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol and salt.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Lower the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can make these conditions worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Doing these things may also lower your risk for kidney cancer.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.