Nephrology is the branch of medicine involved with the study of the kidney, its development, anatomy, physiology as well as the diagnosis and treatment of kidney problems, which can include inflammation, infection, kidney stones and other disorders. The kidneys (bean-shaped organs located at the base of the rib cage) filter wastes from the blood and excrete them in the urine. Kidneys are instrumental in regulating water, electrolyte and pH balance in the body.
Because kidney function is dependent upon so many other body systems, nephrologists must have knowledge of them as well. For example, hormones, especially those produced by the pituitary gland, control the kidneys' actions. An increase or decrease in hormone supply can disrupt the kidney's normal function of reabsorbing water into the body and other functions. When contributing body systems become involved, nephrologists may consult with endocrinologists and other specialists.
Other problems that can occur and be related to kidney disorders include high blood pressure, fluid and mineral balance, and artificial removal of body wastes. Kidney failure (renal failure) is the inability to excrete waste and maintain electrolyte balance; with acute cases, the kidneys can no longer produce urine, so toxins accumulate dangerously in the body.
Caused by many systemic disorders, renal failure may be treated by diuretics, restricting protein intake and, in severe cases, hemodialysis, the technique of filtering the blood with an external machine. Kidney transplantation is another option for severe cases.
Nephrologists affiliated with Roger Williams Medical Center provide the full range of diagnosis and treatment.