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Mammalian Kidney

The kidney is an organ found in all vertebrates as well as some invertebrates. The primary functions of the paired bean-shaped structure include ridding the body of metabolic waste products and maintaining water balance and the proper chemical environment within the body.

The kidneys of mammals are somewhat different than those of reptiles, birds, and other animals, which are comprised of numerous small lobules. In mammals, each of the organs may be considered to be divided into two primary parts: the cortex and the medulla. The cortex of the mammalian kidney is granular in appearance due to the many tubules and glomeruli it contains. The inner medulla, however, is basically smooth, although some striations are present. This portion of the kidney holds collecting tubules and the loops of Henle. Working in conjunction, the various parts of the kidney are capable of filtering the body’s entire blood supply in a matter of minutes.

A number of infections, diseases, and disorders may afflict the kidneys, sometimes with fatal results. Nephritis, the most common of all kidney problems, is relatively easy to treat and is characterized by water retention and decreased urination. The kidneys are also frequently afflicted with urinary tract infections, which are usually associated with pain during urination and the development of kidney stones. Less common, but much more serious is nephrosis, a degenerative disorder that may result from a number of other conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. If the kidneys degenerate to a great extent, the accumulation of wastes in the body may result in death. Thus, many people that suffer from such a condition opt to undergo periodic dialysis, an artificial means of blood filtration, while many others seek kidney transplants.


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