It’s not just for kidney stones.
You go to your primary care physician for your annual exam, and they have some concerns about your tests. You leave with a referral to see a nephrologist. It's possible you may not have ever heard that term before. What is a nephrologist, and what do they do?
What Is a Nephrologist?
A nephrologist is basically a kidney doctor. The word comes from the Greek nephros, meaning “kidney.”
Your primary care doctor will refer you to a kidney specialist if they suspect there’s a problem with your kidneys that need more attention. Healthy kidneys are essential: They filter waste from your blood. That waste gets eliminated through urine. When they don’t filter properly, it can negatively affect your entire body.
Potential Reasons to See a Nephrologist
You might need to see a nephrologist if:
1. You have an increased risk of kidney disease
Kidney disease is when your kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood the way they should. This is a serious health condition that requires monitoring and treatment.
Certain health conditions can increase your risk of kidney disease. A nephrologist can monitor how that condition is affecting your kidney health. Your risk of kidney disease is higher if you have conditions like:
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Glomerulonephritis (which means parts of the kidneys are inflamed)
- Polycystic kidney disease (which means there are fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys)
2. You have frequent kidney stones
These stones form in your kidneys and cause immense pain. For one kidney stone, you’ll likely seek treatment from your primary care doctor or an emergency room. However, you might need to see a specialist if you’re having kidney stones again and again. A nephrologist can help figure out what’s causing them to recur.
Symptoms of a kidney stone include:
- Intense pain in the lower abdomen that may radiate down the legs or to the back
- Strong sensation of needing to urinate
- Burning sensation during urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Urine that is dark or red due to blood
3. You have a severe kidney infection
A kidney infection is a type of urinary tract infection. Most of these infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. Once again, you can often treat these by seeing your primary care doctor or an urgent care facility. However, you may need to see a nephrologist if the infection worsens or won’t go away.
Some of these problems can really affect your health and quality of life. The good news is that if you have any of these conditions, your nephrologist will be able to come up with a care plan for you.
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- Your First Visit with a Kidney Doctor. New York, NY: National Kidney Foundation. (Accessed May 10, 2021).
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- Chronic kidney disease. Scottsdale, AZ: Mayo Clinic. (Accessed May 10, 2021).
- Kidney Stones. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed May 10, 2021).
- Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed May 10, 2021).
- What are Kidney Stones?. Linthicum, MD: American Urological Association. (Accessed May 10, 2021).