March is National Kidney Month and March 13 is World Kidney Day. During this month, we strive towards bringing awareness to chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the importance of our kidneys to our overall health.

In order to understand completely what this disease is, it is important for individuals to understand the importance of the kidneys and the function they serve. Kidneys are vital organs that clean and filter your blood. In doing so, they remove the waste from your blood stream and excrete it into your urine. In addition to removing waste from your blood, the kidneys also help in the production of blood cells, which both keeps your bones healthy and maintains the electrolytes in your body.

CKD is a condition in which the kidneys do not work well and cannot do their job of cleaning the blood. As a result, toxins and waste accumulate in the blood. CKD can be classified into various stages -- from Stage 1 to Stage 5. Stage 5 is when the kidneys completely stop working. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 20 million people in the United States have CKD in various stages. CKD is now a major public health issue.

There are a number of factors that play a role in developing CKD. CKD can develop at any age, however, your chance of developing the disease increases with age. The incidence of CKD in the older adult population is increasing. Diabetes is a very common cause of CKD, followed by hypertension. Other conditions like high cholesterol, obesity, family history of CKD also play an important part in its development. Conditions like lupus and certain hereditary conditions are also associated with CKD. In Kern County, 15.3 percent of the Medicare population is currently being treated for chronic kidney disease.

CKD in the early stages is a silent disease. The patient does not exhibit any signs or symptoms. A common belief is that if you are producing urine, you do not have a kidney problem. That is not always true. Your body may be capable of producing urine, however, your kidneys may not be doing a good job of filtering your blood. The only way to know if you have a kidney problem is by doing blood and urine tests.

CKD has an overall impact on your health. People with CKD are at higher risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. People with CKD tend to have other medical issues like anemia, swelling and congestive heart failure. Additionally, some people may have problems with high potassium levels.

When the kidneys stop working, the body cannot function. That is when people need to start dialysis or get a kidney transplant. To protect yourself from CKD, if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or any of the other risk factors mentioned above, you need to see your primary care doctor on a regular basis. Your physician can check you for CKD by doing blood and urine tests. If you have significant kidney problem, they will refer you to a kidney specialist, also referred to as a nephrologist.

You can reduce your risks of CKD by controlling your diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. It is very important to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy balanced diet. Watching your intake of sodium is particularly important if you have high blood pressure or congestive heart failure.

Kidneys are an important part of your body. So, each day -- especially as we recognize World Kidney Day -- we ask you to take care of your kidneys and keeps your body thriving for years to come.

Sonia Kamath, M.D., is a nephrologist for Kaiser Permanente in Bakersfield. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.