Nephrologists are doctors who specialize in conditions that affect the kidney. Kidney issues are on the rise around the world, with millions of people each year undergoing treatments for kidney injury or chronic kidney disease (CKD). In fact, kidney disease ranks as the 12th leading cause of death globally and the 9th leading cause in the United States.
In the United States, 15% of adults are believed to have chronic kidney disease. Though 90% of them don’t realize it or don’t visit a nephrologist until the disease has become serious and expensive.
Having your kidneys malfunction is even more likely than having your liver malfunction, primarily due to the chronic health conditions that develop at the same time. Kidney disease can develop from existing health issues like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It can also cause high blood pressure and heart disease to develop, even if you didn’t have these conditions before.
Chronic kidney disease can also lead to health complications like anemia, osteoporosis, a weakened immune system, or an irregular heartbeat. This cause-and-effect relationship shows how important it is to have healthy kidneys, and to be proactive in seeing a nephrologist who can treat and manage any kidney issues you have.
Nephrologists can develop a management plan that helps you overcome low-functioning kidneys. In some cases, your kidney damage may even be reversible if caught and treated early.
What Does a Nephrologist Do?
Sometimes called renal medicine, nephrology is a specialty within the internal medicine field related to kidney care. It is often connected with hypertension or high blood pressure.
Nephrologists are medical professionals who diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic kidney problems and diseases. They also treat associated issues like high blood pressure, fluid retention, and electrolyte and mineral imbalances. In addition, these specialists are in charge of kidney dialysis treatment — both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis — and kidney transplants and their follow-up care.
Nephrologists are experts in renal health, and they work to identify issues with your kidneys to help you maintain good health. Your kidneys are important because they filter your blood to remove waste and toxins, and they monitor and balance the water, acid-base, and mineral ratios in the body.
Reasons to See a Nephrologist
Most people don’t go to a nephrologist without a referral from their primary care doctor. Typically, seeing a nephrologist means that you have kidney-related symptoms from an unknown cause or that you have health issues only a renal specialist knows how to treat. You might be referred to a nephrologist if you have the following signs or symptoms:
Chronic Urinary Tract Infections
If you get a lot of urinary tract infections (UTI), which are typically bladder infections, you are at greater risk for the infection to travel up to your kidneys. This also puts you more at risk of developing kidney disease, permanent kidney damage, or even kidney failure. Chronic UTI symptoms, especially blood in the urine, fever, and fatigue, can also indicate the early stages of bladder or kidney cancer.
Recurring Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are mineral- or salt-based deposits inside your kidneys, and they cause a lot of pain when passing through your urinary tract. If you get a lot of kidney stones, your kidneys are likely not filtering waste properly and are letting deposits accumulate.