What is nephrology, and why is it important?

Nephrology is a subspecialty of internal medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. Doctors who practice this highly specialized function are known as nephrologists.

Your primary care physician or OB-GYN will probably refer you to a nephrologist if there is blood or high traces of protein in your urine, if you have extremely high blood pressure, kidney stones, renal insufficiency (poorly functioning kidneys due to a reduction of blood flow to the kidneys caused by renal artery disease) or kidney failure.

Kidneys are responsible for regulating body fluids, blood chemistry, and blood pressure, as well as removing organic waste in the blood stream. When proper kidney function is disrupted, a nephrologist can determine the cause and diagnose a specific treatment plan. That plan may include medication, a change in medications currently taken or a change in diet.

For extreme kidney problems or total failure, a nephrologist may recommend dialysis, where your blood is filtered by way of mechanical means outside your body, or a kidney transplant. A nephrologist will not perform the transplant surgery but will be instrumental in patient care after the procedure.

Of course, the best way to avoid needing the services of a nephrologist is to take good care of yourself by eating right, exercising regularly, being moderate with alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco products. Controlling high blood pressure is also crucial to preserving normal kidney functions, so be sure to get regular checkups and consult your family physician if high blood pressure becomes a consistent problem.

You only have one set of kidneys. Be sure to take good care of them, and they’ll take good care of you for the rest of your life.