Kidneys were the first long-term area for concern I was probably made aware of when it came to Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and organ damage. My diagnosis for Lupus came about from neurological paralysis, Bells Palsy, and joint inflammation, Rheumatoid Arthritis, yet I was still warned about the kidneys. As I researched into my family’s past illnesses for areas of commonality, (where did my poor health come from?) I found trouble abounds genetically in our kidneys. I was lucky in that way.
The trouble with Lupus
Lupus is an obscure illness. Diagnosis comes after years of tests and scans, many doctors’ appointments and more than a few varying troubles of seemingly unrelated areas. It takes a dedicated patient, persistence, time, effort and a good medical history and doctor to put together enough information to bring about this special verdict. There is no known cause or no traceable lineage that can explain where any type of Lupus comes from and how it will affect any individual so knowing how your case will go is like knowing what will happen to you next week. When I say, I was lucky to know my family had a bad run with the kidneys, I meant only that it was so bad that I was likely to have trouble regardless. Lupus involvement could be inevitable.
Unsurprisingly for the past half-decade I had lived with severe pain in my kidneys. I have had so many CT scans, x-rays and ultrasounds on them they could feature in their own mini-series. My kidneys have been poked, prodded, squeezed, filtered dry and choked full. According to all medical tests, however, there is nothing wrong with them. Now, with the last bout of my latest chemo treatment over, I know they are in for another world of hurt. The chemo will collect all the ‘bad cells’ (ironically in this case that actually means all my white blood cells) and remove them from my body (via my kidneys).
How the kidneys work
Your kidneys are your bodies filtration mechanism. They are not the largest organs in the body, but nature gave you two of them, suggesting their vital importance. Kidneys are bulbous and shaped like beans. They are not hollow but porous and filled with millions of miniscule filtering zones called nephrons. Image a sponge, when you wipe a dirty bench top, the pores in the sponge collect the contaminants. When you squeeze the sponge, liquid runs free but most of the contaminants stay behind. In the same way, your blood runs through your kidneys. The nephrons collect the contaminants like the pores of the sponge, letting cleansed, filtered blood continue through the body. The contaminants collected in the nephrons of the kidneys leaves the body with waste liquid via the bladder as urine.
Why Lupus and kidneys?
When you think about Lupus as the destroyer of all things in your body, good and evil, you get to thinking. What happens to all the cells my body attacks and destroys? Where do they go? When you reflect on the role of the kidneys as organs to filter out waste, you can kind of make the tentative link that I have made. Lupus antibodies attack my (for example) platelets. My (for example) platelets are now (hypothetically) dead and so no longer serve a purpose in my body. They must be removed and so the kidneys catch them and off these (hypothetically) dead platelets go. I guess. When you add into this all of the extra ‘things’ we put into our body to keep ourselves alive, you must ask yourself, what are they doing to me? Have you ever tried to travel on the freeway on a weekend afternoon and found yourself stuck in excessive amounts of holiday or festival goer traffic? These roads are made for a lot of vehicles, but unexpectedly 20,000 people are all trying to move themselves in the same direction at an unprecedented day and time. You have to wonder if the same thing is happening in your kidneys when you take those eight morning tablets, the five evening tablets, as well as two mid-morning and two mid-afternoon (for the pain) and one at night (to help you sleep). Don’t even forget the vitamins and supplements you take for mum so she doesn’t worry so much that your gut bacteria is out of balance because of all the pills you take.
It is no wonder you feel like your kidneys are over stressed. It is no wonder you are concerned if you are putting too much pressure on your kidneys. It is no wonder kidneys, renal failure/ malfunction or some type of ‘nephritis’-sounding ailment occurs to many people with many different types of Lupus.
And there was me, worried about my family history of Kidney Stones.