Nephrologists are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, including associated conditions that involve or can have an impact on the kidneys. They are also highly trained in managing how kidney dysfunction can affect the rest of the body.
Nephrologists treat a number of conditions that may directly or indirectly affect the kidneys. Some common conditions they treat include:
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease is a slow and progressive condition that involves the loss of kidney function, leading to kidney failure (in which dangerous levels of waste and fluid can rapidly build up in the body). The disease can often go undetected until it becomes advanced. There are five stages of chronic kidney disease, classified according to the percentage of kidney function. If you have less than 60% kidney function for 3 months or more, you have chronic kidney disease. End-stage kidney disease (or stage 5 of chronic kidney disease) occurs when your kidneys have less than 15% function.
Nephrologists are specially trained to evaluate and slow the progression of chronic kidney disease and improve outcomes. Treatment options can include lifestyle modifications, medications, and treatments for underlying causes/medical conditions. For end-stage kidney disease, treatments may include different dialysis modalities and/or a kidney transplant.
Chronic kidney disease or a decline in kidney function can cause electrolyte imbalances. A balance of different electrolytes is essential for the normal functioning of the body. Electrolytes are made up of salts and minerals which provide an electrical charge and enable them to interact with each other along with cells in tissues, nerves, and muscles inside the body. They regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance pH (acidity) levels, and help move nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells. They also help to rebuild damaged tissue.
Electrolyte levels can fluctuate as the amount of water in your body changes, such as sweating during exercise, becoming dehydrated, or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting. The kidneys, along with certain hormones, regulate the concentration of every electrolyte. If you have chronic kidney disease, it is very important to monitor your electrolyte levels.
Nephrologists can use blood tests and urinalysis to screen for electrolytes in your blood and measure acid-based balance and kidney function. If an imbalance is detected, there are a variety of treatments available, including oral rehydration therapy, IV electrolyte replacement therapy, or dietary and lifestyle changes.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) can cause damage to blood vessels (leading to kidney disease and kidney failure), stroke, or heart attack. Factors, such as poor nutrition, smoking, not exercising, being overweight or obese, or having diabetes or heart disease, can all contribute to hypertension. Blood pressure often rises with chronic kidney disease. This can further impair kidney function even when another medical condition initially caused the disease.
A nephrologist can work with you to control hypertension in order to prevent or slow the progression of kidney disease. Your doctor may encourage you to make lifestyle modifications, and if your blood pressure is particularly high, you may be prescribed medication to help lower it and keep it under control.
Other Kidney Conditions
A nephrologist is also able to help with other conditions affecting the kidneys, such as kidney stones (waste products in the blood that can form crystals and collect in the kidneys), glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the part of the kidney that filters blood), polycystic kidney disease, conditions caused by rheumatological disease, a blocked renal artery, or kidney damage as a result of long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Comprehensive Kidney Care in Massachusetts
At Commonwealth Nephrology Associates, we are devoted to caring for our patients’ needs. We focus on treating both common and complex kidney conditions, including chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and associated conditions like hypertension and electrolyte disorders.