Kidney problems are becoming more common around the world, with millions of people suffering from kidney injury or chronic kidney disease (CKD). Damage to the kidneys is caused by existing health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Kidney damage can in turn cause high blood pressure and heart disease, even if these conditions didn’t exist in a person before. Chronic kidney disease can also cause anaemia, osteoporosis, a weakened immune system, or an irregular heartbeat. This is where nephrology has a huge role to play. But what does nephrology mean? Nephrology is the branch of medicine that deals with the kidneys and nephrologists are doctors who specialise in treating kidney-related problems.

Nephrologists diagnose kidney problems and accordingly come up with a treatment plan. Let’s take a further look at what nephrologists do, and what it takes to become one.

What’s in the Job Description of a Nephrologist?

Nephrologists diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic kidney problems. They also deal with related problems such as high blood pressure, fluid retention, and electrolyte and mineral imbalances. Kidney specialists handle kidney dialysis treatments, transplants, and post-op care.

Nephrologists stay updated on the latest advancements in kidney care, and work to ensure that the patient gets the best treatment possible. A nephrologist monitors the health of the kidneys, checks lab test results, and prescribes medications. If required, nephro doctors also work alongside other specialists to develop the best course of treatment for a patient who has kidney damage and other related health complications.

How Does One Become a Nephrologist?

Nephrologists are medical doctors who have gone through advanced training in nephrology. To become a nephrologist, you have to complete four years of medical school to earn an MD, then complete a three-year residency in internal medicine, followed by two-three years of fellowship with board certification in nephrology. A certification exam from the American Board of Internal Medicine is required for the board certification in nephrology.

When Is a Nephrologist Consulted?

Most patients are referred to a nephrologist by their primary care physician. Patients are referred to a kidney doctor if the general physician detects symptoms of kidney problems. Here are some symptoms of kidney-related problems:

  • Chronic Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Urinary Tract Infections, which are bladder infections, can cause the infection to travel up to your kidneys. This in turn increases the risk of developing kidney disease, permanent kidney damage, or even kidney failure. Chronic UTI symptoms, such as blood in the urine, can also be signs of early stages of bladder or kidney cancer.
  • Recurring Kidney Stones: Kidney stones are mineral- or salt-based deposits inside the kidneys, that cause extreme pain when they are passed through the urinary duct. If these salt deposits keep occuring, it is an indication that the kidneys are not filtering waste properly, thereby letting deposits accumulate.
  • Foamy Urine: Froth or bubbles in the urine is a sign of protein deposits in the urine. This condition is called proteinuria and is caused by symptoms ranging from being relatively harmless to causing kidney damage. Normal urine contains some amounts of protein waste in it that goes unnoticed. However, when there is an excess of this protein waste, bubbles or foam start to appear in the urine. A nephrologist will perform a series of blood tests to check blood and kidney health.
  • Itchy Skin and Joint or Bone Pain: Itchy skin accompanied by bone and joint pain is a sign of a condition called renal bone disease, also called mineral and bone disorder. This condition sometimes occurs with kidney disease and happens when the kidneys are unable to maintain the amount of calcium and phosphorus required by bones. If this condition goes untreated, it can cause weakened bones, and heart and blood vessel problems.

Therefore, kidney damage is not to be taken lightly due to the multitude of serious complications it can cause. Kidneys require specialised care of their own and should be dealt with by a kidney specialist.