When to see a nephrologist? Know the common diseases of kidneys
Kidneys are fist-sized organs that are very essential for a healthy body. These are located below the rib cage on each side of the spine and are responsible for filtering waste, excessive water, and other impurities from the body. Kidneys remove these toxins through urination and are also responsible for maintaining the pH, salt and potassium levels in the body. Moreover, kidneys help to regulate the blood pressure, monitor production of red blood cells, as well as produce a form of Vitamin D that promotes the absorption of calcium in the body.
Kidneys are a very critical organ of the body and 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 functions efficiently. This can be caused due to a variety of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
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 specializes in treating kidney diseases is called a Nephrologist. It is important to know the types of kidney problems, the causes and the symptoms that signify when to see a Nephrologist.
Common Types and Causes of Kidney Diseases
- Chronic Kidney Disease: Caused mainly due to high blood pressure and diabetes, chronic kidney disease is a very common kidney problem. This is a long-term problem that doesn’t improve over time, instead tends to intensify. High blood pressure causes pressure on the glomeruli – tiny blood vessels that clean the blood – which eventually causes them to become damaged and hence, the kidney functions begin to decline. It continues to deteriorate further to an extent where the kidneys do not function at all, requiring the person to do on dialysis. With dialysis, the extra fluid and waste are removed from the blood; however, it is not a permanent solution. Dialysis can only treat chronic kidney disease temporarily but cannot permanently cure it.
- Kidney Stones: Another common kidney problem is the presence of stones in the kidney which can be extremely painful and would require the patient to see a Nephrologist. A kidney stone is a solid mass composed of tiny crystals. These are formed when there is an excessive quantity of a certain mineral in the body while at the same time there is a lack of liquid to dissolve these minerals. These pebble-like objects are not stones but the pain caused is very intense and one might feel as if they are stones. Kidney stones can be the size of sand, gravel or the size of a pearl or even larger and is often very painful since it blocks the flow of urine. In many cases, the stone may travel through the urinary tract and come out but in many cases, small non-invasive surgeries may be required.
- Glomerulonephritis: Glomerulonephritis is a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the glomeruli. Glomeruli are tiny blood vessels which are responsible for filtering the blood in the kidneys. This condition could be caused by infections, drugs, or congenital defects. This could result in various problems and one should visit a Nephrologist for concerns.
- Polycystic Kidney Disease: This is a type of inherited kidney disorder in which a cluster of small cysts are formed in the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged and lose function over time. These cysts are non-cancerous but contain fluid and have the potential to grow to a very large size. This disease can also cause kidney failure.
- Urinary Tract Infections: Urinary Tract Infections or UTIs are bacterial infections in the urinary system comprising of kidneys, uterus, bladder and urethra. However, infections of the bladder and urethra are more common. These infections can be easily treated and do not cause any significant health problems unless they are left untreated. In the latter case, the infections can affect the kidneys and can even cause them to fail.
Symptoms of Kidney Diseases
Kidney diseases tend to go unnoticed for a long time until the symptoms intensify. While each kidney disease has different symptoms, yet some of the common symptoms of kidney diseases include:
- Problem in sleeping
- Muscle cramps
- Dry, itchy and scaly skin
- Frequent urination
- Puffy eyes, especially in the morning
- Poor appetite
- Problem in concentrating
- Swelling in feet and ankles
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
- 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
Risk Factors of Kidney Diseases
Some people are at more risk of experiencing kidney problems than others. Some factors that make people more prone to kidney diseases are:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of chronic kidney problems
- Old age
- Race – African, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian
It is critical to know the types of common diseases of the kidney, identify their symptoms and understand what puts one at more risk than others. A Nephrologist will help treat kidney problems and ensure healthy kidneys.