Meet your treatment team: Nephrologist

You can break the word “nephrologist” into two parts: “nephros,” which is Greek for kidney and “ologist,” which means someone who studies. That means a nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in caring for the kidneys!

A nephrologist is a very important member of your health care team who can help you through any stage of your kidney disease journey. Your nephrologist cares for you by helping you understand your kidney condition, putting together a treatment plan and connecting you to other resources that can help.

Understanding your condition

During your first visit with your nephrologist, they will ask questions about your medical history and lifestyle and do a routine physical to get to know you and the reason for your visit.

If you do not know the cause of your kidney disease, your nephrologist will work to figure out what is damaging your kidneys so you can slow down or stop the progression to kidney failure.* In addition to common kidney function tests, like blood and urine tests, a nephrologist might also suggest a kidney biopsy to help determine what is causing your kidney problem. In certain cases, they may also look at your family history to see if there is a genetic cause to your kidney disease or if you may have a rare disease that is causing damage to your kidneys.

At future appointments, your nephrologist will explain your test results, go over next steps and answer any questions you may have. It may be helpful to bring a notebook with questions you have thought of ahead of time to ask your nephrologist and also to write down important information they tell you during your appointment. There is no need to feel embarrassed if you do not understand something. Ask as many questions as you can!

*If the cause of your kidney disease is still undiagnosed, you may want to visit another nephrologist for a second opinion. Knowing the cause of your kidney disease will help you get the best treatment and outcomes.

Putting together a treatment plan

Using the test and diagnosis results from your first appointment, your nephrologist will prescribe a treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan will depend on your stage of kidney disease, but it can include:

  • Medications to treat the cause of your kidney disease or complications you may have from your kidney disease. These medicines can help control diabetes and high blood pressure—the two leading causes of kidney disease—or complications like anemia, gout, high phosphorus or high potassium.
  • Dialysis. There are two types of dialysis—hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis can be done either in a dialysis center or at home after you and a caregiver have been trained to do your treatments. Peritoneal dialysis is done at home.
  • Kidney transplant. A kidney transplant is considered the best treatment option for most people with kidney failure because it can increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life.

Your nephrologist may also recommend taking other steps to slow down your kidney disease. This could include changing the way you eat, exercising more often, and limiting tobacco and alcohol.
Remember—there is no cure for kidney disease or kidney failure. If you reach kidney failure, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to live. It is important to stick to your nephrologist’s treatment plans throughout your journey for your best chances to slow down and manage your kidney disease.

Connecting you to other resources

Your nephrologist will work with other health care professionals to make sure you receive the treatments they prescribed. This may include:

  • Referring you to a renal dietitian who can help you find healthy, kidney-friendly foods
  • Helping you find a dialysis center that is close to your home
  • Referring you to a transplant surgeon

If your normal treatments are not working, your nephrologist may suggest that you consider participating in a clinical trial.

Your nephrologist is more than just your doctor—they are a core member of your health care team and a long-term partner in your fight against kidney disease.

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About the Author(s)

Hope Gamper

Hope Gamper is the associate director of marketing at the American Kidney Fund.

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