Nephrology is the medical subspecialty that deals with the kidneys, especially their functions and diseases. A Nephrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diseases of the kidney.
The term "nephrology" is derived from the Greek word for kidney, "nephrons."
Another term commonly used in reference to the kidney is "renal," as in "renal failure." This term is derived from the Latin for kidney, "renes."
Healthy people have two kidneys.
A normal kidney can fit in the palm of your hand.
Fortunately, if one organ stops working, or if both are partially damaged, the remaining kidney is usually able to perform adequately on its own.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from loss of function of both kidneys resulting in total kidney failure.
Your kidneys serve several vital functions, including:
Kidneys are essentially blood-cleansing organs. An artery from the heart brings blood into the kidneys to be cleaned by a network of millions of tiny units called nephrons.
The nephrons filter out toxins, excess nutrients and body fluid and excrete them in the form of urine into the bladder. The remaining cleaned and filtered blood then passes through veins back into circulation.
If both kidneys stop functioning due to disease, patients experience end-stage renal disease (ESRD), or total kidney failure. Because the kidneys perform so many critical functions, people whose kidneys fail face an immediate life-threatening condition.
Kidney failure means that the body can no longer rid itself of certain toxins and cannot properly regulate blood pressure and critical nutrients.
Unless those experiencing kidney failure are treated, they can die within days due to the build-up of toxins and fluid in their blood.
Dialysis is a life-saving process that artificially replaces the functions of the kidney.
There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
Hemodialysis involves removing blood from the body and filtering it in a machine. The patient is connected by a tube to the dialysis machine, which continuously draws blood out, cleanses it and removes excess fluid and then returns the blood back to the patient. Hemodialysis must be performed for 3 to 4 hours at least three times a week.
It is usually performed at a dialysis center, though home dialysis is also possible.
Peritoneal Dialysis is internal or in-body dialysis. Peritoneal dialysis entails use of a blood-cleansing solution called "dialysate" that is injected into the peritoneal cavity, the region of the abdomen that is lined by the peritoneum. While in the peritoneal cavity, the dialysate works to extract toxins and excess fluid from the blood.
After a period of time, the solution is then drained from the body cavity. Peritoneal dialysis may be done during the day or at night. Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) is the name given to this procedure when it is performed at five-hour intervals four times a day during waking hours.
While dialysis is life sustaining and allows most patients to work and perform many normal activities, dependence on dialysis is strenuous, costly and is accompanied by severe dietary and lifestyle restrictions.
Dialysis patients must continuously monitor and regulate their body's levels of salt, protein, potassium and calcium. ESRD patients are also highly prone to fatigue, especially immediately prior to dialysis treatment.
Many ESRD patients benefit greatly from a kidney transplant. After successful transplantation, patients no longer require dialysis.
The development of effective anti-rejection drugs means that the prognosis for five-year survival for most of these patients is high. To avoid rejection, the best possible source of kidney donation is a close relative whose blood and tissue type match the patient's.
Donated organs from cadavers also have high success rates.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of ESRD.
Kidney disease can also develop from infection, inflammation of blood vessels in the kidneys, kidney stones and cysts. Other possible causes include prolonged use of pain relievers and use of alcohol or other drugs.
The warning signs of kidney disease include:
If you experience any of these warning signs, you should see your health-care provider right away. In addition, you should consult a nephrology specialist as early as possible.
Treatment of ESRD and kidney diseases is complex, so if you or someone close to you has kidney disease, be sure to consult a qualified Nephrologist. Studies show that your chances of surviving kidney failure are best if you are under the care of a nephrology specialist.
Yes. Due to the large and growing number of patients faced with long-term dependence on dialysis, ESRD is among the most expensive diseases to treat.
You can do a lot to help fight this life-threatening condition. First become familiar with the warning signs of kidney disease.
To maintain kidney health, you should:
You can also help by becoming an organ donor. Becoming a donor is as easy as taking the time to speak with your family and let them know of your wishes.