Nephrologists, also referred to as kidney doctors, specialize in kidney care and commonly treat chronic kidney disease (CKD) and manage dialysis care for people with end stage renal disease. People with kidney problems may be referred to a nephrologist by their primary care physician or they may choose to go to a kidney doctor if they believe they have issues with their kidneys.
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. If someone feels they are having problems with their kidneys, they can seek out the care of a nephrologist. 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 a urologist.
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 will 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.
Nephrologists generally meet with dialysis patients several times per month and other types of kidney patients every one to three months. When a patient comes in for a check-up, the kidney doctor will evaluate the patient’s medical condition, address any new problems, check test results, make changes to the patient’s dialysis prescription if needed and refill or prescribe medications. During these visits, the nephrologist is also likely to adjust blood pressure medicines and may initiate or adjust therapy for a variety of other problems, such as diabetes, anemia and high cholesterol.
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.