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What is a Nephrologist (Kidney Doctor)?

A nephrologist, also known as a kidney doctor, is a kidney disease specialist and is the most qualified doctor to help you manage your kidney health. If you’re living with chronic kidney disease (CKD), a nephrologist offers the expertise, guidance, and support to help you stay your healthiest—and keep your kidneys working as long as possible. 


What does a nephrologist do? 

As your kidney doctor, your nephrologist will work with you and your primary care physician to create a kidney Care Plan based on your CKD stage and your unique health needs. This Care Plan will be the blueprint for you and your care team as you look after your kidneys.

Your nephrologist can also:

  • Help you maintain kidney health
  • Monitor your lab test results closely
  • Recommend medications that may help slow CKD progression
  • Collaborate with your care team
  • Update your Care Plan, as necessary
  • Answer any questions about your kidney health
  • Work with other doctors you may see
  • Help you plan for any future kidney health needs

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Why see a nephrologist—and when to see one

With kidney disease, taking early action can help slow the progression of kidney disease and have an impact on your health. When you reach Stage 3b CKD, if you have not already received a referral to a kidney doctor, talk to your primary care physician. Seeing a nephrologist when you start experiencing severe loss of kidney function can help ensure you’re doing everything you can to manage your kidney health and improve your health outcomes.
Stage 1 CKD
(eGRF 90 or higher)
Your primary care physician In early stages, your doctor can help you:
  • Understand CKD
  • Stay your healthiest
  • Manage other health conditions that may impact your kidneys
Stage 2 CKD
(eGFR 60-89)
Your primary care physician In early stages, your doctor can help you:
  • Understand CKD
  • Stay your healthiest
  • Manage other health conditions that may impact your kidneys
Stage 3a CKD
(eGFR 45-59)

You primary care physician In early stages, your doctor can help you:
Stage 3b CKD
(eGFR 30-44)

A nephrologist & your other doctor(s) A nephrologist & your other doctor(s) can help you:
  • Eat well with CKD
  • Manage your medications
  • Monitor your labs and any symptoms
  • Achieve better health outcomes and live longer
  • Reduce your chances of needing dialysis later
Stage 4 CKD
(eGRF 15-29)
A nephrologist & your other doctor(s) Working with a kidney doctor at stage 4 can help you:
  • Monitor labs and track CKD progression
  • Evaluate and adjust medications as needed
  • Preserve kidney function as long as possible
  • Achieve better lab results and health outcomes
  • Explore future treatment options that may be right for you
Stage 5 CKD
(eGFR less than 15)
A nephrologist & your other doctor(s) Working with a kidney doctor at stage 5 can help you:
  • Preserve kidney function as long as possible
  • Choose a kidney failure treatment that works with your lifestyle and priorities
  • Understand options for a kidney transplant and dialysis
  • Stay your healthiest and feel your best
  • Reduce hospitalizations

How much does it cost to see a nephrologist? 

The cost to see a kidney doctor can vary, depending on your insurance coverage. Finding a nephrologist who’s in your insurance provider network can help you manage costs. It’s important to consider that seeing a nephrologist early can help you stay your healthiest and achieve better outcomes—which may also help you manage future healthcare needs and expenses. If you have questions, talk to your insurance provider about your plan coverage. 

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.
Learn about the stages

What to expect at your first nephrologist appointment

At your first visit, your kidney doctor 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. Here are some routine first steps in working with your kidney doctor:

  • You will also be given blood and urine tests to help make or confirm a kidney disease diagnosis.
  • Additional testing may also be performed, if necessary.
  • Your kidney doctor will make an official diagnosis and determine your CKD stage. 
  • Your kidney doctor will talk to you about the first steps to take in your Care Plan.
  • Depending on your stage, you may also be referred to other care team members who can help. If you're not already working with a renal dietitian, ask for a referral so you can focus on eating well. 


How to get the most out of your nephrologist visit

Your kidney doctor is here to help you live your best life with kidney disease. So that you can work well together, it’s important to get all the information you need to feel comfortable and in charge of your health decisions—at any stage.

Tips for your next nephrologist appointment

  • Ask questions—your kidney doctor wants you to have all the answers you need to make informed health choices. 
  • Take a pen and paper—sometimes it's hard to remember or absorb new information. Make 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.

Get questions to ask your nephrologist
Use this list of questions to start a discussion with your kidney doctor and other care team members.
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