Nephrology is the branch of internal medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that affect the function of the kidneys. The human body has two kidneys, which act as filters by removing waste and excess fluid from the blood. Some diseases that affect the kidneys are limited to just the kidneys themselves, but other diseases are systemic and require medical attention not only by nephrologists, but also by specialists in other fields, such as immunology or rheumatology.
Function of the Kidney
Several times each day, all of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys to be cleared of waste. Kidneys perform the following functions:
- Remove waste products from the blood
- Regulate the balance of fluids in the body
- Regulate the body's electrolyte balance
Each kidney contains hundreds of thousands of microscopic units called "nephrons." Each nephron functions as a tiny filter, assisting in the removal of waste from the blood. Unfortunately, many kidney diseases do not have any symptoms until the body's total kidney function is less than 10-15 percent.
Disorders of the Kidney
There are many disorders that affect the kidneys. Some of them are:
- Genetic disorders such as polycystic kidney disease
- Inflammatory diseases such as glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis
- Kidney cancer
- Diabetic nephropathy
- Hypertensive kidney disease
- Imbalance of electrolytes or acid levels
- Acute or chronic kidney failure
- Kidney stones
Diagnosis & Treatment of Kidney Problems
In addition to a detailed review of systems and physical examination, additional testing may be performed. Depending on the type of kidney disease, healthcare professionals may order blood testing, urine testing, imaging studies, and a kidney biopsy.
Treatment plans are tailored to each patient's specific condition. Treatments may include dietary changes, medications, surgical procedures, and careful follow up to monitor progress. In cases of severe kidney failure, dialysis or kidney transplant may be recommended.