Just below your ribcage, on each side of your spine, is a small-but-mighty bean-shaped organ that acts as a janitor for your body. You have two kidneys, and as you go about your day-to-day duties those fist-sized organs are hard at work filtering waste from your blood, and removing extra water to make urine. The kidneys are so good at what they do, they can filter all of the blood in your entire body in just 30 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, they’re multitasking by making important hormones that help control blood pressure, creating red blood cells and maintaining healthy bones.

Like many important parts of your body, when your kidneys are doing their job, you probably don’t give them much thought. But if things go wrong, it can get serious.

March is National Kidney Month. It’s a great time to educate yourself about kidney health, so that you take care of these important little organs and learn some tips that may help your or your doctor detect any early warning signs of health issues, such as chronic kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which kidneys are damaged or unable to filter blood properly. If not diagnosed and treated, it could eventually lead to kidney failure.

Read on to dispel some common myths and learn some interesting facts about chronic kidney disease and kidneys in general.

  1. Myth: Kidney disease is rare, and I shouldn’t worry about it.

Fact: The CDC estimates that more than one in seven American adults have chronic kidney disease. That translates to about 37 million people. As a whole, kidney-related conditions are a leading cause of death in this country.

  1. Myth: If I had kidney disease, I’d know it.

Fact: Not necessarily. Most of the 37 million people with chronic kidney disease don’t even know it, says the CDC. And 40% of people who have severely reduced kidney functions don’t know they have chronic kidney disease. While there may be signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease, they may not appear until the condition has progressed. And because many of the symptoms could overlap with other conditions, they could be attributed to something else, entirely. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the following may be signs of chronic kidney disease:

  1. Decrease in energy level/difficulty concentrating
  2. Difficulty sleeping
  3. Skin that feels dry and itchy
  4. Frequent urination
  5. Blood in urine
  6. Foam/bubbles in urine
  7. Continual puffiness around eyes
  8. Decreased appetite
  9. Swollen ankles and feet
  10. Muscle cramping
  1. Myth: If I get kidney disease it can be cured.

Fact: Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic kidney disease. However, there are ways to manage and treat the condition.

  1. Myth: Scientists don’t know what causes kidney disease.

Fact: Chronic kidney disease has been well studied, and health experts have identified a number of risk factors for developing the disease. Those include: 

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Family history of chronic kidney disease
  • Other inherited kidney disorders
  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Older age (people 65 and older are more likely to be diagnosed)
  • Gender (it’s slightly more common in women)
  • Race/ethnic background (Black adults face a higher risk and Asian and Hispanic adults face a slightly elevated risk compared to white adults)
  1. Myth: There’s nothing I can do to prevent kidney disease.

Fact: When you adopt certain healthy habits, you may be lowering your risk for this condition. The CDC shares the following advice:

  • Strive for a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage any chronic health conditions, and maintain healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium. The National Kidney Foundation recommends something called the DASH Diet, a low-sodium, low-fat diet that may slow the progression of heart and kidney disease (talk to your doctor before starting a new diet because it might not fit your health needs. The DASH Diet, for example, should not be used by people on dialysis).
  • Have regular health check-ups and talk with your primary care provider about how to keep your kidneys healthy
  1. Myth: Testing for kidney disease is complicated.

Fact: There are several different tests that can detect kidney disease, including blood tests and urine tests. Blood pressure monitoring, imaging and a biopsy can also assist in diagnosis. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for you.

  1. Myth: You must drink eight glasses of water a day to keep your kidneys healthy.

Fact: While staying hydrated is important, there’s no magical amount of water every person should drink. Each person’s needs are different, and they change based on climate, age, health and other considerations (in fact, people with chronic kidney disease may face complications if they drink too much water). You can learn a lot about your hydration level from the color of your urine, which should be light or even colorless. When urine is dark yellow, it could indicate dehydration. Again, talk to your doctor, who can help you set a daily hydration goal.

  1. Myth: You need two kidneys to live a healthy life.

Fact: Remember how hard-working those kidneys are? In fact, these organs can be so efficient that a person can potentially live a healthy life with just one kidney. Some people are even born with just one kidney. That’s good news for people with kidney diseases who need to have a kidney transplant, and it’s good news for living donors who could help a friend, family member or even stranger out by donating a kidney

If you have concerns about your kidney health, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. They can discuss your health history and lifestyle habits and may choose to test your urine and blood to address any concerns. If needed, they can refer you to a kidney specialist, called a nephrologist, who can come up with a personalized health plan to help you help your kidneys.