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Can you live with just one kidney?

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Quick Answer

Human beings can have long and healthy lives with just one kidney. Some people are born with only one kidney, while other people may have a kidney surgically removed to treat disease or to donate to someone who may die without a kidney transplant.

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When someone is born with just one kidney or no kidneys at all, that is a medical condition named renal agenesis. Being born with one kidney is more specifically unilateral renal agenesis, which is abbreviated URA; being born with no kidneys is bilateral renal agenesis, abbreviated BRA. URA occurs in 1 of every 450 to 1000 births, while BRA occurs in 1 of every 3000 births.

Surgical removal of a kidney is called nephrectomy. Diseases that may require nephrectomy include heart disease, infection, and severe allergic reaction. Injury to the kidneys due to severe blood loss, severe dehydration, and some medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also result in the need for a nephrectomy.

Kidneys perform several functions vital to life. One familiar function is the production of urine, which removes liquid wastes from the body. A lesser known function of the kidneys is maintenance and balance of sodium, potassium, and other chemicals in the blood. The kidneys also produce the hormones erythropoietin, renin, and calcitriol, which respectively aid the growth of red blood cells, regulate blood pressure and supply calcium to bones.

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