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  Nephrology is a branch of internal medicine and pediatrics dealing with the study of the function and diseases of the kidney.[1] The word nephrology is derived from the Greek word nephros, which means "kidney," and the suffix -ology, signifying "study of."


Scope of the specialty

Nephrology concerns itself with the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases including electrolyte disturbances and hypertension, and the care of those requiring renal replacement therapy, including dialysis and renal transplant patients. Many diseases affecting the kidney are not limited to the organ itself, but are systemic disorders, and may require not only a whole patient approach, but also special treatment, such as systemic vasculitides or other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.


A nephrologist is a physician who has been trained in the diagnosis and management of kidney disease, by regulating blood pressure, regulating electrolytes, balancing fluids in the body, and administering dialysis. Nephrologists treat many different kidney disorders including acid-base disorders, electrolyte disorders, nephrolithiasis (kidney stones), hypertension (high blood pressure), acute kidney disease and end-stage renal disease. Nephrology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. In the United States, after medical school nephrologists complete a three year residency in internal medicine followed by a two year (or longer) fellowship in nephrology.

Knowledge of internal medicine is required to obtain certification. To become a nephrologist requires many years of school and training. Nephrologists also must be approved by the board. To be approved, the physician must fulfill the requirements for education and training in nephrology in order to qualify to take the board's examination. If a physician passes the examination, then he or she can become a nephrology specialist. Typically, nephrologists also need two to three years of training in an ACGME accredited program in nephrology. Things that a nephrologist learns in this program are fluid and acid base and electrolyte physiology, medical management of acute and chronic renal failure, glomerular and casuclar disorders, tubular/interstitial disorders, mineral metabolism, clinical pharmacology, hypertension, epidemiology, thics, and nutrition. Once training is satisfactorily completed, the physician is eligible to take the ABIM nephrology examination.

Nephrologists may further specialize in pediatric nephrology (treatment of kidney diseases in children) or adult nephrology. Certification in these subspecialties requires satisfactory completion of additional education and training and passing an examination.

Who sees a nephrologist?

Patients are referred to nephrology specialists for various reasons, such as:

Urologists are surgical specialists of the urinary tract - see Urology. They are involved in renal diseases that might be amenable to surgery:

  • Diseases of the Bladder and prostate such as malignancy, stones, or obstruction of the urinary tract.


As with the rest of medicine, important clues as to the cause of any symptom are gained in the history and physical examination.

Laboratory tests are almost always aimed at: urea, creatinine, electrolytes, and urinalysis-- which is frequently the key test in suggesting a diagnosis.

More specialized tests can be ordered to discover or link certain systemic diseases to kidney failure such as hepatitis b or hepatitis c, lupus serologies, paraproteinemias such as amyloidosis or multiple myeloma or various other systemic diseases that lead to kidney failure. Collection of a 24-hour sample of urine can give valuable information on the filtering capacity of the kidney and the amount of protein loss in some forms of kidney disease. However, 24-hour urine samples have recently, in the setting of chronic renal disease, been replaced by spot urine ratio of protein and creatinine.

Other tests often performed by nephrologists are:

  • Renal biopsy, to obtain a tissue diagnosis of a disorder when the exact nature or stage remains uncertain.;
  • Ultrasound scanning of the urinary tract and occasionally examining the renal blood vessels;
  • CT scanning when mass lesions are suspected or to help diagnosis nephrolithiasis;
  • Scintigraphy (nuclear medicine) for accurate measurement of renal function (rarely done), diagnosis of renal artery disease, or 'split function' of each kidney;
  • Angiography or Magnetic resonance imaging angiography when the blood vessels might be affected


Many kidney diseases are treated with medication, such as steroids, DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), antihypertensives (many kidney diseases feature hypertension). Often erythropoietin and vitamin D treatment is required to replace these two hormones, the production of which stagnates in chronic kidney disease.

When chronic kidney disease progresses to stage five, dialysis or transplant is required. Please refer to the main articles dialysis and renal transplant for a comprehensive account of these treatments.

If patients proceed to transplant, nephrologists will continue to follow patients to monitor the immunosuppressive regimen and watch for the infection that can occur post transplant.

Notable nephrologists

  • Dr. Willem Johan Kolff, is a pioneer in the development of the hemodialysis machine as well as in the field of other artificial organs.
  • Dr. Arthur Arnold Osman, was the first doctor to call himself a nephrologist.


In the USA, the National Kidney Foundation is a national organization representing patients and professionals who treat kidney diseases. In the United Kingdom, the National Kidney Federation represents patients, and the Renal Association represents renal physicians and works closely with the National Service Framework for kidney disease.


  1. ^ American Society of Nephrology
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nephrology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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