Training Tips

Keeping Your Kidneys Happy

In 490 BCE, the Athenian soldier Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to bring news of their victory over the Persians.

Over 2000 years later, marathons and running races have become popular pastimes. In fact studies show that the reduction in motor traffic actually saves lives. Nevertheless, an endurance event like this does put significant stress on your body and can lead to health risks if you are not prepared.

One of the biggest concerns is something called rhabdomyolysis. Your muscles contain a protein called myoglobin that helps them absorb oxygen from your blood. When your muscles are damaged, this protein can be released into the circulation. And as we all know, muscles are damaged after 26 miles! That’s where the pain comes from. Well in some rare cases these proteins can cause damage when your kidneys try to clean them out of your body. In severe cases the kidneys may fail completely and the athlete must be hospitalized for dialysis. Fortunately, the kidneys almost always heal in a few days.

How can you avoid this? Most importantly, stay hydrated. If you get too dry, these proteins will be more concentrated in your blood and more potent. Also, a type of medicine called NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can reduce blood flow into your kidneys and further increase the risk. These include ibuprofen, naproxen, and many others. You should avoid taking high doses of these before a race, and make sure you are well hydrated if you need to pop a few after the race.

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis may include tea-colored or even red urine, swelling of the lower legs, and especially nausea and vomiting. It’s more common in hotter climates and in those who are not well trained for the event.

As long as you stay hydrated, and avoid NSAIDS at high doses, you will be fine. Your kidneys are remarkable organs that can take quite a lot of stress! Both kidney donors and kidney transplant recipients run marathons without any difficulty. So stay safe and see you on the course!

Phillippe Gauthier, MD, Director of Transplant Nephrology at Porter Adventist Hospital