A nephrologist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating kidney-related diseases and disorders. They are trained to identify and manage various conditions that can affect the kidneys, such as kidney stones, chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, and kidney failure.
Nephrologists work with patients to develop personalized treatment plans to help manage and maximize kidney function. They may recommend dietary changes, medication, and other interventions to help patients maintain their kidney health.
Sometimes, when the kidneys are no longer functioning correctly, nephrologists can assist with dialysis. Dialysis is a medical treatment that removes waste and excess fluid from the body when the kidneys cannot perform this function independently.
Overall, nephrologists play a vital role in helping individuals manage kidney-related health issues, maximize kidney function, and improve their quality of life. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as primary care physicians, urologists, and transplant surgeons, to provide comprehensive care to patients with kidney diseases.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), over 15% of US adults are likely to have chronic kidney diseases, which is 37 million. Additionally, among these adults, 2 out of 5 do not know that they have severe chronic kidney diseases.
You might have also heard the term ‘renal diseases’ to refer to kidney-related diseases, and they are called “the silent killer” in the medical world. Early diagnosis of renal diseases can save you from severe kidney problems and even kidney failure.
We have compiled a list of signs and symptoms that will help you know the right time to visit a Nephrologist.
Why do we Need a Nephrologist?
Your kidneys filter the blood, pull toxins and other impurities from it, and then send the waste matter to your bladder. If this system is disturbed, your body might experience repercussions in various forms.
Nephrologists are needed to identify and treat kidney-related diseases. You might be referred to a nephrologist if you have any kidney-related conditions, including:
- Chronic Kidney Diseases(CKD)
- Acute renal failure
- Cystic diseases such as polycystic kidney diseases
- Diabetic kidney disease
- Long term kidney infections
- Kidneys or bladder cancer
- Renal blood vessel disease
- Rare or inherited kidney diseases
- Electrolyte imbalance
Signs and Symptoms
Kidney or renal failure symptoms aren’t usually acute and even noticeable until the condition gets severe. This is why 9 in 10 people in the US aren’t aware of kidney diseases. Many patients are only left with kidney transplants and dialysis by the time the problem does become noticeable.
Here are some common reasons you might have to see a nephrologist. In case you observe any or a combination of these signs, it is time to consult a nephrologist.
- Foamy or Bloody Urine
If you see bubbles, foam, or blood in your urine, these are likely to be caused by kidney damage. Bubbles or foam in urine is caused by high amounts of protein, a condition called proteinuria.
Blood in the urine can be caused by damaged kidney filters, which malfunction and leak some of the blood cells.
Frequent urination might also be linked with kidney diseases, especially at night.
- Frequent UTIs
UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) is a condition in which bacteria enter the urinary tract via the urethra and cause infections in the bladder. If left untreated, UTIs can spread to the kidneys and cause chronic kidney diseases.
If you experience frequent UTIs, it is time to see a nephrologist. Severe symptoms of UTI, such as fever, fatigue, and blood in urine, can be signs of early-stage kidney or bladder cancer.
- Fatigue and Weakness
Damaged or malfunctioned kidneys cannot filter toxins and other impurities, resulting in a buildup of waste matter in the blood. This buildup can result in constant fatigue, weakness, and even confusion. Anemia is also related to kidney diseases and can cause tiredness and weakness.
Excess waste buildup can also fog your brain, leading to a lack of concentration.
- Dry, Itchy Skin
Your kidneys do not just filter waste and make red blood cells, and they also maintain mineral levels in the blood. If you experience dry or itchy skin, it might be because your kidneys cannot maintain the right balance of calcium and phosphorus in your blood. If left untreated, this might result in weak bones and problems with the heart and blood vessels.
You might also experience bone and joint pain with dry and itchy skin. This is called renal bone disease, which occurs when the kidneys cannot maintain the proper mineral levels required by the bones.
Recurring Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are mineral deposits in the kidneys that usually pass through the urinary tract. If you get kidney stones frequently, this might be a sign that your kidneys aren’t functioning correctly, leading to the inability to filter waste. Additionally, if kidney stones are not properly passed, you are at risk of infection.
Some kidney stones are also likely to hinder the filtration process, damaging your kidneys and leading to chronic kidney diseases. Frequent kidney stones are a sign to consult a nephrologist so that they can identify and treat the problem.
High Blood Pressure
Kidneys release hormones that help regulate blood pressure. If you experience high blood pressure frequently, even with proper medication, this might mean that your kidneys are not properly functioning.
Higher salt intake can also result in elevated blood pressure. When kidneys cannot filter increased salt, blood, and oxygen levels, they have difficulty reaching vital organs, which strains your heart as it tries to pump blood harder. This results in elevated blood pressure.
Edema or Swelling
Malfunctioning kidneys can result in sodium retention, which causes swelling on various parts of your body, including legs, feet, lower back, face, and even eyelids.
Caused by protein leakage due to malfunctioning kidneys, periorbital edema or swelling around the eyes occurs due to fluid retention. It is considered to be one of the earliest signs of kidney disease.
Swollen legs or abdomen might also be caused by heart or liver diseases.
Nausea and Loss of Appetite
Renal malfunction often results in the accumulation of toxins, such as urea and acids. This leads to suppressed appetite and nausea. Advanced kidney diseases might result in a taste change, described as ‘metallic’. If you feel fullness without having anything in the day, it’s time to see a nephrologist.
Your body will likely experience many unpleasant challenges if your kidneys are thrown off balance. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor as they might refer you to a nephrologist. Your doctor can determine the best time to consult a nephrologist based on your kidneys’ condition. As timely consultation can save you from kidney failure or other chronic kidney problems, it is best not to delay your visit.