The prospect of living without any of your essential organs is a frightening idea, but life can be an unpredictable. When it comes to certain organs in our body, like the brain, heart or lungs, losing one of them, or having them shut down, would be fatal. However, our bodies are incredible machines, and have found ways to survive with partial or total failure/removal of certain organs.
The kidney is one of the more interesting examples of this in the body, since the vast majority of people are born with two kidneys. There are also a number of reasons that a person might not have or lose a kidney, or have its function be compromised. In some rare cases….
So, the short answer to the question is…. Yes, you can definitely live without a kidney. However, there’s much more to the story…
The Curious Case of the Kidney
For those of you who don’t know, most human beings are born with two kidneys, which are organs in the renal system. Kidneys are responsible for many important functions, including regulating electrolyte levels in the body, maintaining blood pressure and fluid balance, removing excess waste products produced by the body’s metabolic activity, and making it possible for us to urinate! Clearly, kidneys are important, and life would be a lot more difficult without them.
That being said, there are many people who must go through life with only one kidney, which can happen for a few different reasons. Some people (roughly 1 in 750) are born with only one kidney, suffering from a condition known as renal agenesis. The body adapts to this, however, and people usually lead normal, healthy lives. There is a higher risk of high blood pressure later in life, but that can be countered by conscientious lifestyle choices. Another condition, called kidney dysplasia, means that you were born with two kidneys, but only one works.
Since people have two kidneys, doctors aren’t hesitant to remove one if it can help treat an injury or counter a disease, such as cancer. Provided the person recovers from the initial problem, they can go on to lead normal lives with a single kidney. Finally, people may have one kidney because they wanted to donate it; perhaps a family member needed a kidney transplant and they were a match. Kidneys are one of the most common organs to be donated and transplanted.
How Is Your Life Impacted?
Many people assume that losing one of your kidneys will change the capacity of your body for complete health. However, that isn’t true, since our kidneys are incredibly flexible and adaptive organs. If you have two functioning kidneys, they split the workload, namely filtering the fluid and blood in the body. When one kidney is removed, it is natural to assume that one kidney will be overworked, or won’t do as good of a job. The thing is, all of the work the kidneys need to do within the body can actually be accomplished by one kidney operating at only 75% efficiency.
When a kidney is removed, the remaining organ handles all of the filtering for the body, and most patients live completely healthy lives following the operation. In fact, if you are born with only one kidney, it can grow up to twice the size of a normal kidney, ensuring that it can handle all of the tasks your body requires.
While functionally speaking, you won’t notice a difference if you only have one kidney, you do need to take special care to avoid injuring or mistreating the one you have left. High-impact sports like football, rugby or martial arts can increase the risk of injury or damage to your kidney, so it is important to consider that, particularly for a child born with only one kidney, as they may not realize the dangers.
In terms of your diet, you shouldn’t need to make any major adjustments if you are living with only one kidney. However, if your kidney was removed due to kidney disease, or if you are at high risk of damage or disease in your remaining kidney, you will need to speak with your doctor about dietary restrictions. Sometimes, people who have one kidney will experience proteinuria, which happens when protein moves from the blood into the urine. This can result in swelling and water retention, so some people with only one kidney may need to cut down their protein intake.
As mentioned earlier, blood pressure is more of a concern for people with only one kidney, as is excess toxicity in the body, in case the transplanted or remaining kidney is not operating properly. In most cases, however, there are no issues and the patient can lead a completely normal life. Regular check-ups, exercise, and eating healthy are the best ways to keep your metabolism and kidney working properly.
Believe it or not, even if your single kidney fails, there are treatment options and procedures that can save your life. Dialysis isn’t a pleasant or perfect solution, but it can do much of the work that your kidneys normally would.
Hopefully, you’ll live a long and healthy life with both kidneys intact, but if you don’t, at least now you know that it wouldn’t be the end of the world!