A Nephrologist is a specialized doctor that treats diseases and problems related to the kidneys. A Nephrologist is also trained to understand how kidney issues and diseases can affect vital human body organs. Each human has bean-shaped kidneys that are located below the ribcage on each side of the spine; these kidneys perform very vital body functions including:

  • Filtering waste and excess fluid from the blood through urination
  • Maintaining the electrolyte balance in the body
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Monitoring production of red blood cells
  • Producing a form of Vitamin D that helps in the absorption of calcium in the body

Kidneys are a very critical organ of the body and thus, it is important to ensure their health and protect them from common diseases. Kidney diseases are very common among people of all ages and are typically defined by a condition where the kidneys are unable to perform their set functions efficiently.

It is important to treat kidney problems since it can lead to further serious complications such as nerve damage, malnutrition, weakening of bones, etc. A doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating kidney diseases is called a Nephrologist. Nephrologists also tend to help manage the impact of kidney dysfunction on other body organs. Hence, it is very important to understand when to see a Nephrologist.

When to see a Nephrologist?

Anyone with signs or symptoms of kidney problems, diseases or dysfunction must see a Nephrologist, irrespective of the condition of the problem – chronic, moderate or severe. Some common signs of kidney problems that help with this are:

  • Swollen legs, ankles or feet
  • Frequent, chronic headaches
  • Nausea
  • Itchiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unexplained and sudden weight loss
  • Change in taste buds
  • Reduction in urine output
  • Confusion, memory issues and trouble in concentration
  • Stiffness or fluid in joints
  • Pain in joints
  • Muscle cramps
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Feeling exhausted during the day
  • Sleep problems at night
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Blood in urine

That said, these symptoms indicate the beginning or a mediocre kidney problem. The below symptoms signify that the kidney diseases are resulting in kidney failure and hence, the patient must immediately see a Nephrologist.

  • Vomiting and Nausea
  • Complete loss of appetite
  • Fluid retention
  • Changes in urine
  • Decrease in red blood cells – anaemia
  • Reduced sexual desires
  • Unexplained hike in potassium
  • Inflammation of the fluid-filled sac surrounding the heart

In many cases, the doctor will refer a patient to a Nephrologist in case they have existing medical conditions that are likely to increase the risk of kidney problems. These conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Diabetes and other metabolic conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems

Additionally, some people are at more risk of experiencing kidney problems than others. These people should consult a Nephrologist regularly. These conditions include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of chronic kidney problems
  • Old age
  • Race – African, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian 

What medical conditions does a Nephrologist treat?

Nephrologists treat all conditions that can or have impacted the kidneys either directly or indirectly.

Some of the common kidney issues treated by Nephrologists include:

  • Chronic kidney diseases
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Kidney Infections
  • Tubular Defects
  • Nephrotic Syndrome
  • Tubulointerstitial kidney problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Vasculitis
  • Auto-immune disorders affecting the kidneys
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • Structural abnormalities of kidneys
  • Congenital problems of kidneys
  • Functional abnormalities of kidneys, bladder, etc.
  • Imbalance of electrolyte, fluid, acid-base, etc.
  • Abnormal growth in kidney
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Kidney stones
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) 

What procedures does a Nephrologist perform?

Nephrologists perform a variety of tests and diagnostic procedures to monitor and detect any kidney problems. These tests help the Nephrologists to undertake the required medical procedure.

Some of the common tests used to detect kidney issues and conditions include:

  • Blood Tests such as serum creatinine, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), Blood urea nitrogen
  • Urine Tests such as Urinalysis, 24-hour urine test, Creatinine clearance, Microalbuminuria, etc.

Common medical procedures that help to detect, monitor and treat kidney conditions include:

  • Ultrasound: This technique uses high-energy sound waves to produce inside picture of the kidneys, helping the Nephrologist detect any abnormalities in size, the position of kidneys and obstructions such as cysts, tumours, etc.
  • CT Scan: A CT Scan is used in combination with a special dye to provide a picture of the kidneys via X-Ray images. This helps to diagnose any problems in the structure of kidneys.
  • Biopsy: A Nephrologist performs a biopsy to analyse various conditions such as the extent of kidney damage, identify the disease and decide the treatment course, and understand any other complications. In a biopsy, the nephrologists collect a small slice of kidney tissue by inserting a thin needle.
  • Haemodialysis: This procedure is used to support patients with chronic kidney problems or kidney failure. In this procedure, an artificial kidney known as hemodialyser is used to run the blood and remove excess fluid, toxins, waste, etc. The purified is blood is then returned to the body through a port or catheter.
  • Kidney Transplant: In this procedure, a portion of the entire damaged kidney is removed and replaced with a matching donor kidney to save the life of the patient.

Kidneys are extremely vital organs of the human body and it is very important to ensure their health for a good, healthy life. Hence, one should be aware of the symptoms of kidney problems and know when to see a Nephrologist.