What is Nephrology

Nephrology is a specialized field of internal medicine that focuses on the study, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney-related conditions. The kidneys are vital for life with their complex network of blood vessels and intricate network of tubes and tubules that filter the blood of its waste products and excess water. The field of nephrology encompasses the diagnosis and treatment of various kidney diseases, including chronic kidney disease (CKD), kidney stones, kidney cancer, and kidney failure, to name a few. In this article, we will explore in-depth what nephrology is, what a nephrologist does, and how they help patients maintain kidney health.

What Is Nephrology?

Nephrology (often called renal medicine) is kidney medicine and is a subspecialty of internal medicine. A nephrologist can help prevent kidney disease or treat its earliest stages. Nephrologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney-related conditions. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, including primary care doctors, urologists, and renal nurses, to manage patients’ kidney health.

What Is a Nephrologist?

A nephrologist is a type of doctor that specializes in treating diseases of the kidney. They are trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of kidney infections and conditions, including CKD, kidney stones, kidney cancer, and kidney failure, among others. Nephrologists work closely with other healthcare professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

What is a pediatric nephrologist?

A pediatric nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in kidney care and treatment in newborns, children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatric nephrologists have the same training as adult nephrologists but have specialized training in pediatric internal medicine. They are specially trained to work with children and their families to provide care that is tailored to their unique needs.

What does a nephrologist do?

Nephrologists diagnose kidney disease and organ problems and treat them. Similarly, they know how kidney conditions affect other parts of the body, including

  • Diagnosing and treating various types of kidney disease, such as glomerulonephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and polycystic kidney disease.
  • Managing chronic kidney disease and its complications, such as high blood pressure and anemia.
  • Evaluating and treating patients with kidney stones and chronic urinary tract infections.
  • Monitoring and managing patients who require dialysis or kidney transplantation.
  • Working with other healthcare professionals to manage conditions that affect the kidneys, such as diabetes and hypertension.

In addition to these tasks, nephrologists may also conduct research to advance their understanding of kidney disease and improve treatment options for patients.

Education and Training

Nephrologists must complete a rigorous educational and training program to become certified in their field. They must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree in pre-medical studies or a related field, followed by four years of medical school. After completing medical school, they must complete a residency in the Board of internal medicine, which typically lasts three years.

Following residency, aspiring nephrologists must complete a fellowship in nephrology, which typically lasts two to three years. During this time, they receive specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease and disorders, as well as the management of patients with kidney failure who require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Treating a Broad Range of Kidney Conditions

Nephrologists treat many different kidney disorders including acid-base disorders, acute renal failure, electrolyte disorders, nephrolithiasis (kidney stones), hypertension (high blood pressure), acute kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease. They also regulate blood pressure, which is a common cause of kidney disease. In addition, nephrologists specialize in the treatment of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and the various forms of renal replacement therapy, such as dialysis and kidney transplant.

Specialized Training for Nephrologists

In addition to their general training in nephrology, many nephrologists have specialized training in interventional nephrology, transplant nephrology, or pediatric nephrology. Interventional nephrologists perform procedures such as kidney biopsies and dialysis access placement. Transplant nephrologists manage the care of patients who have received kidney transplants. Pediatric nephrologists treat chronic kidney disease and disorders in children.

What does a nephrologist do on a first visit?

During a patient’s first visit to a nephrologist, the nephrologist will conduct a thorough medical history and physical examination. The nephrologist will ask the patient about their symptoms, medical history, and any medications they are taking. The nephrologist will also evaluate the patient’s kidney function using blood and urine tests, imaging tests, and other diagnostic procedures as necessary. Based on the results of the evaluation, the nephrologist will develop a personalized treatment plan that is tailored to the patient’s needs.

What is the difference between a nephrologist and a urologist?

Many people often confuse the roles of a nephrologist and a urologist, as both are medical professionals who specialize in treating conditions related to the urinary system. However, there are some key differences between the two.

A nephrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of kidney diseases and disorders. They deal with issues related to the kidneys and their function, such as chronic kidney disease, kidney failure, and kidney stones. Nephrologists are also trained in the treatment of hypertension which is a common risk factor for kidney disease.

On the other hand, a urologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and medical management of conditions related to the urinary tract, including the bladder, urethra, and reproductive organs. They deal with issues related to the urinary system, such as urinary tract infections, bladder and prostate cancer, and male infertility. Urologists also perform surgical procedures related to the urinary system.

Although there is some overlap in the conditions treated by nephrologists and urologists, their roles are quite different. Nephrologists focus on treating kidney-related conditions, while urologists focus on treating conditions related to the urinary system as a whole.

In some cases, patients may need to see both a nephrologist and a urologist to manage their condition effectively. For example, a patient with kidney stones may need to see a nephrologist to manage their chronic kidney disease and a urologist to remove the stones surgically.

What is transplant nephrology?

Transplant nephrology is a specialized field of nephrology that focuses on the care of patients who have received a kidney transplant. Transplant nephrologists are experts in the management of kidney transplant recipients and are skilled in the management of transplant-related complications.

Kidney Tests, Procedures, and Other Treatments

Nephrologists use a variety of tests and procedures to diagnose and treat kidney conditions. Some common tests and procedures include

  • Blood tests – Your nephrologist will likely do a series of blood tests, such as blood urea nitrogen, serum creatinine, and protein-creatinine ratio, to check your blood and kidney health
  • Urine tests – These tests analyze a sample of urine to check for abnormalities, such as protein or blood in the urine, which can indicate kidney disease.
  • Imaging tests – Imaging tests, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs, allow kidney doctors to see the size and shape of the kidneys and detect any abnormalities.
  • Biopsy – A kidney biopsy involves taking a small piece of kidney tissue to examine it under a microscope, which can help diagnose kidney disease and determine the best course of treatment.
  • Dialysis – Dialysis is a treatment that uses a machine to filter waste products and excess fluid from the blood when the kidneys can no longer perform this function.
  • Kidney transplant – A kidney transplant involves surgically placing a healthy kidney from a donor into a patient with kidney failure.
  • Medications – Nephrologists may prescribe medications to treat various kidney conditions, including high blood pressure, proteinuria, and glomerulonephritis.

Overall, the goal of nephrology treatment is to preserve kidney function and prevent further damage to the kidneys.

What are common conditions that a nephrologist treats?

Nephrologists treat many digestive and kidney diseases conditions, including

  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
  • Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney’s filtering units)
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease (inherited disorder causing cysts to form in the kidneys)
  • Kidney Stones
  • Nephrotic Syndrome (kidney disorder causing high levels of protein in urine)
  • Hematuria (blood in urine)
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
  • Electrolyte Imbalance
  • Renal Artery Stenosis (narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys)
  • Lupus Nephritis (kidney inflammation caused by systemic lupus erythematosus)
  • Diabetes-related kidney problems (diabetic nephropathy)

These conditions can affect patients of all ages, and nephrologists work to diagnose and treat them while also helping patients manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

What types of tests and procedures does a nephrologist perform?

Nephrologists are kidney doctors who treat kidney-related conditions and are experts in diagnosing and treating various diseases that affect the kidneys. They perform a variety of tests and procedures to identify and treat these conditions. Some of the common tests and procedures performed by nephrologists include

  • Blood tests – Blood tests can measure the levels of waste products, electrolytes, and other substances in the blood that are indicative of kidney function.
  • Urine tests – Urine tests can help assess the presence of protein or blood in the urine, which can indicate kidney damage.
  • Imaging tests – Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRIs can provide detailed images of the kidneys and urinary tract to identify any abnormalities or damage.
  • Kidney biopsies – A nephrologist may perform a kidney biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of kidney tissue for analysis, to help diagnose conditions such as glomerulonephritis or kidney cancer.
  • Dialysis treatment – For patients with end-stage renal function or other advanced kidney disorders, a nephrologist may recommend both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis treatment to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood.
  • Laboratory tests – Laboratory tests to analyze the composition of the blood and urine are used to evaluate kidney function by measuring creatinine and urea-nitrogen levels, glomerular filtration rate, and other markers of renal health.

In addition to performing these tests and procedures, nephrologists work closely with other healthcare providers, such as primary care doctors and urologists, to provide comprehensive care for patients with kidney disease. By working as a team, nephrologists can help patients manage their kidney disease, preserve kidney function, and prevent further damage.


Why would you be referred to a nephrologist?

You may be referred to a nephrologist if you have kidney disease or related conditions, such as high blood pressure, electrolyte disorders, or kidney stones. A nephrologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney-related conditions and works closely with other healthcare providers, such as primary care doctors, urologists, and transplant surgeons, to provide comprehensive care to patients.

What are the 3 early warning signs of kidney disease?

The three early warning signs of kidney disease are

  • Changes in urination, such as decreased urine output or foamy urine
  • Swelling or puffiness, especially in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Fatigue or weakness, due to the buildup of waste products in the blood

It’s important to note that these symptoms may not be noticeable in the early stages of kidney disease, which is why routine blood and urine tests are essential for detecting kidney problems.

What can people at normal risk do to lower their odds of developing kidney disease?

Kidney disease is typically caused by an underlying chronic medical condition, with diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) being the two most common culprits. For individuals who are not at increased risk for kidney disease, regular exercise and limiting salt intake can help prevent the development of diabetes and hypertension.


In conclusion, nephrology is a specialized branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and management of kidney diseases. It encompasses a wide range of conditions that affect the kidneys, from simple infections to complex illnesses like chronic kidney disease and kidney failure. Nephrologists use a variety of diagnostic methods and treatment options to address these issues and improve patients’ overall well-being. With the help of advancements in technology and research, the field of nephrology continues to evolve and provide better outcomes for patients with kidney problems.

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