What is nephrology?
Nephrology is the study of normal kidney function, kidney problems, the treatment of kidney problems and renal replacement therapy (dialysis and kidney transplantation).
What is a nephrologist?
A nephrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the kidneys. Nephrologists are educated in internal medicine and then undergo more training to specialize in treating patients with kidney diseases. They commonly treat chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, acute renal failure, kidney stones and high blood pressure and are educated on all aspects of kidney transplantation and dialysis.
What does a nephrologist do?
A nephrologist generally sees patients who are referred by their primary care physicians or general physicians for problems related to the kidneys, high blood pressure or certain types of metabolic disorders. When a kidney doctor first meets with a patient, he or she will usually go over the patient’s medical history and do a complete physical. A nephrologist will then do blood and urine tests to determine how well the patient’s kidneys are functioning. He or she may also order a kidney ultrasound. When necessary, a nephrologist may perform a kidney biopsy in order to better determine what is wrong with the kidneys. However, a nephrologist is not a surgeon and typically does not perform operations. Treatment of kidney cancer, prostate operations and removal of kidney stones are usually handled by a different type of physician known as an urologist. Initial treatment may include patient education about the nature of problems, possible treatments and expectations for the future.
If a nephrologist finds that a patient’s kidneys are not functioning as they should, he or she will help diagnose the cause and prescribe a treatment plan. If a kidney doctor detects kidney disease, he or she may do tests to determine what stage of kidney disease the patient is in and plan the patient’s treatment. The nephrologist will usually refer the patient to a renal dietitian, renal social worker and renal nurse who will help with the patient’s care. If the patient needs dialysis or a kidney transplant, his or her kidney doctor will discuss the different types of dialysis or refer the patient to a transplant center.
Every nephrologist has received extensive training in general internal medicine, and many nephrologists will treat their patients for other things besides kidney problems. It’s important that patients tell their kidney doctors if they notice any changes in their health.
Who should see a nephrologist?
A person may be referred to a kidney doctor if he or she is experiencing:
- Acute renal failure
- Stage 3 or worse chronic kidney disease
- Accelerated decline in kidney function
- Chronic or repeat urinary tract infections
- High blood pressure that does not respond to medication
- Repeat kidney stones
- Excessive blood or protein in urine
- Abnormal kidney X-ray or ultrasound results
- Patient Education
- Kidney biopsy
- Anemia management
- Kidney transplant
- Chronic Kidney Disease management