U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
 

 Alternate Versions

 

You can also order print versions from our online catalog.​​​​​

 

 Additional Links

 

Contact Us

Health Information Center

 

 For More Information

 

Kidney and Urologic Disease Organizations

Many organizations provide support to patients and medical professionals.  View the full list of Kidney and Urologic Disease Organizations​​. (PDF, 345 KB)

Your Kidneys and How They Work

On this page:

What are the kidneys and what do they do?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are located just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. Every day, the two kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of urine, composed of wastes and extra fluid. The urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder through two thin tubes of muscle called ureters, one on each side of the bladder. The bladder stores urine. The muscles of the bladder wall remain relaxed while the bladder fills with urine. As the bladder fills to capacity, signals sent to the brain tell a person to find a toilet soon. When the bladder empties, urine flows out of the body through a tube called the urethra, located at the bottom of the bladder. In men the urethra is long, while in women it is short.

More information about the ureters, bladder, and urethra is provided in the NIDDK health topic, The Urinary Tract and How It Works.

Anatomical drawing of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra within the outline of a male figure.
The urinary tract

[Top]

Why are the kidneys important?

The kidneys are important because they keep the composition, or makeup, of the blood stable, which lets the body function. They

  • prevent the buildup of wastes and extra fluid in the body
  • keep levels of electrolytes stable, such as sodium, potassium, and phosphate
  • make hormones that help
    • regulate blood pressure
    • make red blood cells
    • bones stay strong

[Top]

How do the kidneys work?

The kidney is not one large filter. Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron filters a small amount of blood. The nephron includes a filter, called the glomerulus, and a tubule. The nephrons work through a two-step process. The glomerulus lets fluid and waste products pass through it; however, it prevents blood cells and large molecules, mostly proteins, from passing. The filtered fluid then passes through the tubule, which sends needed minerals back to the bloodstream and removes wastes. The final product becomes urine.

Drawing of the kidney. Blood with wastes enters the kidney, filtered blood exits, and wastes go to the bladder. Inset shows a nephron with glomerulus and tubule.
Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons.

More information is provided in the NIDDK health topic, Questions and Answers about the Kidneys and Kidney Disease.

[Top]

Points to Remember

  • Every day, the two kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of urine, composed of wastes and extra fluid.
  • The kidneys are important because they keep the composition, or makeup, of the blood stable, which lets the body function.
  • Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. The nephron includes a filter, called the glomerulus, and a tubule.
  • The nephrons work through a two-step process. The glomerulus lets fluid and waste products pass through it; however, it prevents blood cells and large molecules, mostly proteins, from passing. The filtered fluid then passes through the tubule, which sends needed minerals back to the bloodstream and removes wastes.

[Top]

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

This information may contain content about medications and, when taken as prescribed, the conditions they treat. When prepared, this content included the most current information available. For updates or for questions about any medications, contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toll-free at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332) or visit www.fda.gov. Consult your health care provider for more information.

[Top]


This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Bessie Young, M.D., University of Washington; William McClellan, M.D., Emory University; Dr. Young. Harold Feldman, M.D., University of Pennsylvania

This information is not copyrighted. The NIDDK encourages people to share this content freely.


[Top]

May 2014