What Is a Nephrologist?
A nephrologist, also known as a kidney doctor, specializes in kidney care and treating kidney diseases, including chronic kidney disease (CKD). This type of kidney specialist is the most qualified doctor to help you manage your kidney health and maintain kidney function as long as possible. Nephrologists are the only doctors who are specifically trained to manage kidney disease, dialysis treatment and kidney transplant.
If you've been diagnosed with kidney disease, your nephrologist will plan your CKD treatment with you and oversee your care team during your treatment. On a day-to-day basis, you may also see an physician's assistant (PA) or another nephrologist on call.
What does a nephrologist do?
A nephrologist generally sees patients who've been referred to them by a primary care physician (PCP). The nephrologist will follow the patient through the stages of CKD, plan for kidney failure treatment at end stage renal disease (ESRD) and play an important role on your care team.
If you've been diagnosed with CKD, how often you see your nephrologist will depend on your CKD stage:
- At stage 3 CKD—typically once every 3 months
- At stage 4 CKD—typically once a month
- At stage 5 CKD—typically once a week
- On in-center dialysis—usually once a week
- On home dialysis—usually once a month
When should you see a nephrologist?
If you are having kidney health issues or your PCP has provided an initial diagnosis of kidney disease, your PCP may refer you to a nephrologist. If you don't have one by stage 3, ask for a referral. By stage 4, you and your nephrologist should begin discussing which treatment option is right for you. It's also a good time to ask whether kidney transplant is an option.
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Learn about kidney function, nutrition, treatment options and how to thrive with kidney disease.
UNDERSTANDING THE STAGES OF CKD
There are 5 stages of chronic kidney disease. Your stage is determined by your level of kidney function. Knowing your stage and what steps to take can help you stay your healthiest.
What to expect at your first nephrologist appointment
At your first visit, your nephrologist will review your medical history to understand your signs and symptoms, risk factors and any other health concerns that may be affecting your kidney health. You will also be given blood and urine tests to help make or confirm a kidney disease diagnosis, and to help determine which CKD stage you're in. Additional testing may also be performed. Your kidney doctor will then make a diagnosis and start a personalized care plan, giving you specific directions on how to care for your kidneys.
Depending on your stage, your nephrologist may also refer you to other care team members, such as a nurse, renal dietitian or social worker.
How to get the most out of your nephrologist visit
Your nephrologist is here to help you live your best life with kidney disease. He or she will talk to you about the best ways to manage your health, preserve kidney function and plan ahead for treatment. At stage 4, your nephrologist will discuss the various treatment options for kidney failure and help you determine which treatment best fits your lifestyle. At this stage, your nephrologist will also help you prep for starting dialysis and getting your access placed.
Tips for your next appointment
- Ask questions—your kidney doctor wants you to have all the answers you need to make informed health decisions.
- Take a pen and paper—sometimes it's hard to remember or absorb new information. Take notes so you can refer to them later.
- Take a loved one with you—hearing information firsthand can help your care partner better understand your diagnosis. Your loved one may also have questions of his or her own.