One Kidney Syndrome
At the start of every semester, in every tutorial, in every subject, you say your name, what you study and an interesting fact about yourself. Everyone always seems to struggle on this last question – but not me.
This is easy.
I was born for this question.
I have one kidney.
One the size of two in fact.
To me, this isn’t something weird or unusual. Just something I have always had. It has never stopped me from participating in any sports, nor has it ever presented a problem. It was only discussing my interesting fact in my latest tutorial that it dawned on me that I should learn about my condition. I wasn’t even sure what it was called – one kidney syndrome?- , how it came about, and if there was anything dire I was in for.
The condition is called uni renal agenesis, if one remains. In these cases, during the 22nd week of gestation the cells of the remaining kidney divide at a higher rate than usual, allowing for compensatory growth. This allows the single kidney to perform the heavy lifting of two, without resulting in any stress or damage. The condition occurs in 1 in 750 adults, and is twice as common in males than females. A large proportion of those with uni renal agenesis aren’t even aware of how unique they are, until there is a problem. You could be walking around with a single mega kidney and not even realize. Fortunately for myself and others with uni renal agenesis, research suggests that the main side effect seems to be hypertension – especially for women during pregnancy.
3D coronal reconstruction of CT scan of Uni Renal Agenesis. Credit: www.med-ed.virginia.edu
But when both kidneys fail to develop – Bi-renal agenesis – the child is either a stillborn or does not survive past the first few hours. Without any kidneys, a human is unable to produce urine which, while seemingly a pretty mundane task, actually removes a high proportion of waste that your blood produces. Without kidneys, or kidney, your waste builds up in your system and subsequently will poison you. On top of this, kidneys keep a balance of crucial chemicals in your blood, they help red blood cell growth and produce the hormones that control blood pressure.
If, by some miracle, the child does survive through those first few hours, there are a number of abnormalities that characteristically occur with bi-renal agenesis including:
Absent sex organ structures, such as the vas deferens and seminal vesicles in males, and the uterus in females.
Absent rectum and anus
Gap in the oesophagus
Malformations of the legs.
But what predisposes one to developing these conditions? Both uni and bi renal agenesis are linked to a number of prenatal factors including diabetes, younger maternal age, and consumption of alcohol during pregnancy as well as a number of drugs including thalidomide, arsenates and cocaine.
But, as with a number of birth defects, sometimes there are no reason – my mother had done none of the above – and was seemingly quite shocked when I asked her if she had done cocaine during her pregnancy.
So what am I in for in my future life?
Not much it looks like.
If I keep a healthy lifestyle, avoid activities that could possibly cause damage – there goes my dream of rodeo – and watch my blood pressure, especially during pregnancy, cross fingers, everything should continue to function as normal.