Kidneys give you very little warning that something is wrong, which is why the Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital is putting a big effort into raising greater awareness.
The hospital offers state-of-the art facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of kidney and associated diseases.
The hospital was out spreading the message as part of last week's activities in CentralWorld to mark World Kidney Day, the global movement to raise awareness of kidney disease.
In 2010, it was estimated that about eight million people in Thailand suffered from chronic kidney disease and 40,845 of them required haemodialysis and kidney transplants.
With the rising prevalence, educating the public is a priority for the Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Foundation, which runs the country's first hospital specialising in kidney disease.
"The cost of dialysis for each patient amounts to 200,000 bath per year. In addition, undergoing a four-hour dialysis three times a week greatly affects patients' quality of life," said Professor Tanyarat Teerapornlertratt MD, head of Education and Academic Affairs.
"Each year, there are about 10,000 new cases of end-stage kidney disease. So we have to question what's causing the increasing number of patients and proactively promote the prevention of kidney disease in order to curb the problem and its socio-economic toll."
Hence health education is the No.1 objective of the institute, whose state-of-the-art hospital opened its doors in September to provide comprehensive care for patients with kidney and associated diseases. The hospital is also undertaking medical training and conducting research, including a two-year pilot project in Kamphaeng Phet province to implement preventative measures against kidney disease.
Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital, Phaya Thai Road.
The organ itself, however, isn't very good at letting you know when something's wrong. Kidney damage is a slow and silent process and it can lose up to three-quarters of its function without showing any symptoms. So even healthy folks should have a check-up to assess kidney function.
"Having diabetes and high blood pressure puts patients at risk of kidney disease, but we take blood and urine tests to monitor kidney function and damage," said Dr Tanyarat.
"More worrying is those with asymptomatic kidney disease. They may not be aware of symptoms.
"For example, they may not notice changes in the urine or they may think that the swelling of the legs comes from walking too much. So the disease often progresses to a serious stage before they consult a doctor."
The kidney's main task is to filter blood and maintain a balance of water and other substances within the body. An imbalance in fluid and sodium in the circulation results in swelling, or oedema.
Called nephrons, the tiny filter units sift useful substances and water while harmful waste and excess water becomes urine, the colour and clarity of which can hint at kidney disorders.
Acute kidney injuries occur when nephrons are suddenly damaged, but more common is the gradual deterioration of nephrons.
"The earlier the detection, the better we can slow down the progression of the disease to delay and avoid the need for dialysis and kidney transplants," said Dr Tanyarat.
Keeping kidneys healthy may require some lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet and reducing sodium intake, which was emphasised in Thailand's World Kidney Day slogan _ "Lod Khem Krueng Nueng" (cut your salt intake in half).
Thais like to add flavour to food, often spooning fish sauce into rice dishes and noodles, observed Dr Tanyarat, and breaking this habit can cut sodium intake. Also look out for "hidden salt" in food products by reading the nutritional information on labels.
Dr Tanyarat also warned that certain drugs, such as long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and herbal medicine also negatively affect kidney function and they should be taken under medical supervision.
A team of more than 40 doctors take turns to provide consultation and treatment at the Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital, whose facilities include 128 in-patients beds, 50 artificial kidney machines for dialysis and six operating rooms that allow up to six kidney transplant operations to take place simultaneously.
"In general, patients may have to wait up to three months before having kidney operations at public hospitals. With our specialists and facilities, we can efficiently treat patients without putting them on a long waiting list," said the hospital's director, Prof Emeritus Teerachai Chantarojanasiri.
The institute was established to celebrate the 60th anniversary of HM the King's accession to the throne. Located on Phaya Thai Road, the hospital is housed in an elegant nine-storey building with architecture inspired by Phaya Thai Palace.
"The public may not yet be aware of our services, which range from disease screening to kidney transplants. They may also mistake us for being a private hospital," said Dr Teerachai. "As a non-profit organisation, the Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital is comparable to public hospitals in terms of cost of treatment, and civil servants can get medical expenses reimbursed according to governmental regulations."
While the hospital has the capacity to accommodate between 800 and 1,000 patients a day, Dr Teerachai and Dr Tanyarat hope that the institute's public education programmes can help lessen the number of patients with kidney disease.
For more information, call 02-684-5000 or visit www.brkidney.org.
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- Writer: Kanokporn Chanasongkram