Nephrology is a separate discipline of general internal medicine comprised of highly trained medical specialists who provide non-surgical health care to patients suffering from, or suspected to be suffering from, kidney disease.
Nephrology is not to be confused with urology which is a separate discipline of general surgery comprised of highly trained surgical specialists who provide surgical options to patients suffering from, or suspected to be suffering from, diseases of the genito-urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder, prostate, urethra and testicles and penis in men).
The term Nephrology originates from the Greek nephros meaning “kidney" combined with the suffix -logy, meaning "the study of". In the same way as specialists treating diseases of the liver are called hepatologists because the liver is made up of millions of cells called “hepatocytes”, specialists treating diseases of the kidney are called nephrologists because the kidney is made up of millions of sub-units called “nephrons”.
Nephrologists study normal kidney function (renal physiology) and kidney disease (kidney pathophysiology), the preservation of kidney health, and the treatment of kidney disease whatever it’s cause. The discipline of nephrology includes the management of renal replacement therapy including kidney dialysis and kidney transplantation.
The work of Nephrology is provided to hospitalised patients and most nephrologists also see patients in hospital outpatient clinics or their private consulting rooms. Nephrologists only see patients who are referred to them by other doctors, frequently by the patient's own general practitioner but sometimes by other specialists.
Nephrologists employ a range of diagnostic tests to assess kidney function and kidney disease including highly specialised blood tests, urine tests, radiological imaging and, sometimes, kidney biopsy. Nephrologists have special expertise in making treatment decisions to help patients with complex and serious kidney diseases to try to preserve kidney function. If all else fails, where appropriate, a nephrologist can arrange kidney dialysis and/or kidney transplantation for patient’s whose kidneys have failed.