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For two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, the kidneys play an important role in keeping your body healthy. They can filter about a half cup of blood every minute when they are functioning at their peak.
Your kidneys remove waste and extra water to make urine. Two thin tubes of muscle on either side of your bladder, called ureters, take the urine from the kidneys to your bladder where it’s stored.
By removing this waste and extra fluid, your kidneys help your body maintain a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals in your blood. They also help your body make red blood cells and regulate blood pressure.
About age 30-40 the rate at which your kidneys filter blood can start to gradually decline in about two thirds of people (even those who do not have kidney disease). The arteries supplying the kidneys can also start to narrow, which may decrease the size of the kidneys. These changes can reduce the amount of reserve kidney function that is available and make your kidneys more susceptible to injury and kidney disease.
As you age the bladder wall can become stiffer and not able to hold as much urine as before. You become less able hold it and may have to urinate more frequently. You also have a higher risk of urinary tract infections.
In women, the risk of urinary incontinence increases due to changes in the urethra, which may be caused by a declining level of estrogen during menopause.
In men, the prostate gland starts to enlarge as you age, gradually blocking the flow of urine. Over 30% of men aged 50 and over require treatment for an enlarged prostate.
Kidney function declines very slowly as you age, which means that despite age-related changes your kidneys and bladder should continue to meet the needs of your body. However, it’s important to manage any medical conditions and maintain a healthy lifestyle, because illness, medicines, and other conditions can degrade kidney function.
For bladder and kidney symptoms, such as pain, more or less frequent urination, uncomfortable urination, etc., it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner. Your doctor will likely order a number of tests to investigate the cause for these symptoms. These tests often include blood or urine tests, but medical imaging may also be recommended.
A kidney and bladder ultrasound, or renal ultrasound, uses high frequency sound waves to visualize and assess your kidneys and bladder. It’s often requested because it’s very good a looking at the soft tissues of the body, as well as evaluating blood flow and fluid retention. For both men and women, this exam can help detect fluid collection, kidney or urinary tract infection, cysts, tumors, kidney disease, obstructions like kidney stones, and more.
While the severity of bladder and kidney conditions vary, many of them are very common. It’s estimated between 40-60% of women develop a urinary tract infection during their lifetime, and the likelihood of an infection increases as you age. Kidney disease, on the other hand, affects one in 10 Canadians according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
Ultrasound helps health care practitioners make a diagnosis and inform care decisions. Once your doctor has identified the need for an ultrasound, your doctor’s office may book an appointment for you, or provide you with a number to call to book your appointment. You will also be given a requisition form and preparation instructions for your exam.
For a kidney and bladder ultrasound, you will be asked to empty your bladder 90 minutes prior to your appointment, then drink one litre of water within the next 30 minutes.
If you have a problem keeping a full bladder, you may arrive early to drink your water at the clinic. If you are too uncomfortable, you may void some urine to relieve the pressure but try not to empty the bladder. It generally takes between 25-30 minutes to complete this exam.
Once in the exam room you may be asked to change into a gown. You will then be positioned by one of our compassionate and experienced sonographers. A warm, unscented, hypo-allergenic, water-based ultrasound gel will be applied to your abdomen. Your sonographer will move the transducer around the area between your hipbones and below your belly button to take images of your kidneys and bladder. You may be asked to hold your breath and change position to help better examine the area of concern. You may experience mild to moderate pressure while the sonographer takes the images.
You will be asked to empty your bladder at the end of the exam and then the sonographer will take more pictures of your bladder to measure the volume of remaining urine.
Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many key areas, such as body, cardiac, and musculoskeletal imaging, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.
Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.
Your doctor will review your images and the report from the radiologist and discuss next steps with you, such as a treatment plan or the need for further diagnostic imaging or lab tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Mayfair Diagnostics has 12 locations across Calgary which provide ultrasound services, as well as one in Cochrane and one in Regina. For more information about our clinic locations and services, please visit our clinic location pages, or you can drop by the nearest clinic.
American Kidney Fund (2021) “Kidney Problems.” www.kidneyfund.org. Accessed April 13, 2021.
John Hopkins University (2021) “Kidney Ultrasound.” www.hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed April 13, 2021.
The Kidney Foundation of Canada (2021) “Why Kidneys are so Important.” www.kidney.ca. Accessed April 13, 2021.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2018) “Your Kidneys & How They Work.” www.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed April 13, 2021.
National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2017) “Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection-UTI) in Adults: Definition & Facts.” www.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed April 13, 2021.
O’Sullivan, E. D., et al (2017) “Renal Aging: Causes and Consequences.” Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. February 2017, 28 (2) 407-420. Accessed April 13, 2021.
Preminger, G. M. (2019) “Effects of Aging on the Urinary Tract.” www.merckmanuals.com. Accessed April 13, 2021.
U.S. National Library of Medicine (2021) “Aging changes in the kidneys and bladder.” www.medlineplus.gov. Accessed April 13, 2021.