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What is Nephrology: Definition and Overview

Definition and Overview

Renal medicine, also known as nephrology, is a field of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and care of patients suffering from kidney disease. This field covers all medical conditions that affect the kidneys including acute kidney injury or late-stage chronic kidney disease that often requires a total renal replacement either by a dialysis or kidney transplant.

Among the kidney conditions that renal specialists treat while working closely with urologists are the following:

  • Multi-system immune disease that affects the kidney
  • Systemic lupus
  • Vasculitis
  • Tubular or metabolic disorders that affect the kidney
  • Haematuria
  • Recurrent urinary tract infection
  • Acute kidney injury (AKI)
  • Acute renal failure, characterized by sudden loss of kidney function
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Kidney transplant
  • Diabetic nephropathy
  • Renal physiology disorders or abnormalities
  • Neurogenic bladder
  • Atheroembolic kidney disease
  • Renal blood vessel disease
  • Nephritic syndrome
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Acute tubular necrosis
  • Hydronephrosis, a condition wherein the urine flows backward, obstructing outward flow
  • Tubulo or interstitial renal disease
  • Polycystic kidney disease that impair proper kidney function


Renal medicine is usually provided through large renal units that operate under hospitals including both university teaching hospitals and district general facilities. Some of these hospitals are equipped with satellite haemodialysis units.

Thousands of patients from around the globe suffer from health disorders that fall under general nephrology; many of them face the risk of the disorder developing into end-stage kidney disease that requires transplantation. The transition from renal therapy to transplantation is monitored through close contact between the patient and renal specialist. This is one of the distinct characteristics of renal medicine; it allows the renal specialist and the patient to build a partnership and cultivate trust that will benefit them throughout the course of treatment and disease management.

As more and more people fall prey to kidney disease, renal medicine is fast expanding with specialists obtaining sub-specialties in specific components of the field, such as kidney transplantation, haemodialysis, academic nephrology, and peritoneal dialysis.

A renal specialist work closely with a wide range of medical professionals such as dietitians, psychologists, dialysis technicians, and transplant surgeons to provide the patient with the most effective treatment and disease management programme. A renal specialist is trained in renal biopsy and temporary vascular access, which is used for haemodialysis; this means having the ability to insert tunneled catheters or peritoneal dialysis catheters into the body to initiate haemodialysis.

When should you see a Nephrologist or Renal Specialist?

People who have a higher risk of developing kidney diseases are encouraged to see a nephrologist or renal specialist on a regular basis for a routine checkup. Detecting any renal problem during the early stages makes treatment easier and eliminates the need for a kidney transplant.

Outside of yearly medical checkups, patients should also see a nephrologist or renal specialist if they encounter the following symptoms:

  • Blood, crystals, or proteins present in urine
  • Recurring kidney infections or bladder infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Uncontrollable high blood pressure, which can damage the kidney
  • Electrolyte disorders


During your first visit, your renal specialist may ask you to take blood and urine tests, depending on your condition; these are both helpful in evaluating the function of the kidneys. To further confirm a diagnosis, renal specialists may also request for a laboratory exam, a CT scan or sonogram, or a kidney ultrasound. You will also be asked about the renal health history of your family, current medications you are taking, and your diet and lifestyle.

The majority of kidney diseases are treatable. If the underlying causes are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and anemia, renal specialists typically prescribe medications to treat the cause of the kidney problem. In cases of end-stage kidney disease, the only options are dialysis (to remove waste products using a machine as the kidney fails to function normally) and kidney transplant. Making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet is typically part of the treatment plan.

Reference:

  • American Society of Nephrology