The body’s filtering machine: Its structures and functions

The nephrons are little structures within the kidney that help filter blood. Each kidney contains about one million of these tiny filtering units.Illustration of a kidney and an enlargement of the nephron.

In filtering the blood, the nephrons help eliminate waste materials and excess water from the body. The wastes and extra water are then excreted from the body in the form of urine.

A tiny structure in the nephron, called glomerulus, acts as a sieve (filtering unit). The glomerulus is a tiny blood vessel, or capillary, which keeps normal proteins and cells in the blood but allows excess fluid, wastes, and other chemical substances to pass through.

The excess fluid, waste products, and other chemicals will eventually pass through the tubule—another part of the nephron. In this tiny passageway, needed chemicals and other substances will be released back to the blood to return to the body. Substances that are returned to the blood include sodium, potassium, amino acids, calcium, and phosphorus, among others. This occurs when the body needs these substances. However, excess substances that are not needed by the body will become part of the urine.

Many conditions or diseases can damage the nephrons. Conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can cause long term damage to these filtering units, which can lead to kidney failure. Kidney disease is a serious health problem. But you can do your part to prevent or delay progression of the condition.

To learn more about kidney disease and things you can do to prevent its development, you may want to read the following:

Reference: U.S. National Kidney Disease Education Program (www.nkdep.nih.gov)

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