Kidneys And Urinary Tract Basics

Our bodies produce several kinds of wastes, including sweat, carbon dioxide gas, feces (stool), and urine. These wastes exit the body in different ways. Sweat is released through pores in the skin. Water vapor and carbon dioxide are exhaled from the lungs. And undigested food materials are formed into feces in the intestines and excreted from the body as solid waste in bowel movements.

Urine, which is produced by the kidneys, contains the byproducts of metabolism — salts, toxins, and water — that end up in the blood. The kidneys and urinary tract (which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra) filter and eliminate these waste substances from our blood. Without the kidneys, waste products and toxins would soon build up in the blood to dangerous levels.

Body Basics: Kidneys and Urinary Tract

In addition to eliminating wastes, the kidneys and urinary tract also regulate many important body functions. For example, the kidneys monitor and maintain the body’s balance of water, ensuring that our tissues receive enough water to function properly and be healthy.

When doctors take a urine sample, the results reveal how well the kidneys are working. For example, blood, protein, or white blood cells in the urine may indicate injury, inflammation, or infection of the kidneys, and glucose in the urine may be an indication of diabetes.

What They Do

Although the two kidneys work together to perform many vital functions, people can live a normal, healthy life with just one kidney. In fact, some people are born with just one of these bean-shaped organs. If one kidney is removed, the remaining one will enlarge within a few months to take over the role of filtering blood on its own.

Every minute, more than 1 quart (about 1 liter) of blood goes to the kidneys. About one fifth of the blood pumped from the heart goes to the kidneys at any one time.

In addition to filtering blood, producing urine, and ensuring that body tissues receive enough water, the kidneys also regulate blood pressure and the level of vital salts in the blood. By regulating salt levels through production of an enzyme called renin (as well as other substances), the kidneys ensure that blood pressure is regulated.

The kidneys also secrete the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates and controls red blood cell production (red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body). In addition, the kidneys help regulate the acid-base balance (or the pH) of the blood and body fluids, which is necessary for the body to function normally.