Pediatric Nephrologist: Your Children's Kidney Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a pediatric nephrologist?

A pediatric nephrologist specializes in the health needs of infants, children and adolescents with kidney diseases and disorders. Pediatric nephrologists diagnose and treat problems with children’s kidneys, such as kidney stones and kidney failure. They also help manage conditions related to kidney disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

A pediatric nephrologist typically: 

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history and kidney function

  • Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect children’s kidneys including diabetes, childhood nephrotic syndrome, kidney failure, hemolytic uremic syndrome, hereditary kidney disease, and kidney stones

  • Analyzes the results of kidney disease screenings including urine tests, blood tests, and biopsies

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications

  • Evaluates whether a child with kidney disease needs dialysis or a kidney transplant

  • Orders and performs kidney dialysis procedures

  • Provides care before and after kidney transplants and other kidney surgeries

  • Creates lifestyle plans for helping patients maintain their kidney function including dietary and medication changes

  • Collaborates with other healthcare providers, such as pediatric surgeons, pediatric urologists, nutritionists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social workers, who help patients and their families manage their kidney conditions

A pediatric nephrologist may also be known by the following names: children’s kidney doctor, pediatric renal specialist, children’s renal specialist, pediatric kidney specialist, or children’s kidney specialist.

Who should see a pediatric nephrologist?

Children who have been diagnosed with a kidney-related disorder should see a pediatric nephrologist on a regular basis to monitor their kidney function and manage their symptoms. To minimize the risk of complications and to help ensure kidney health and overall health, any child who is newly diagnosed with a disease related to the kidneys, such as diabetes, kidney failure, kidney stones, or childhood nephrotic syndrome, should seek care from an experienced pediatric nephrologist.

When should you see a pediatric nephrologist?

If your pediatrician has identified kidney-related problems in your child, he or she will most likely refer you to a pediatric nephrologist. You should also consider seeking care from a pediatric nephrologist if your child develops any of the following symptoms or conditions: 

What conditions and diseases does a pediatric nephrologist treat?

A pediatric nephrologist treats conditions and diseases including:

  • Birth defects of the kidneys including lack of kidneys or abnormal kidneys

  • Bladder problems including urinary system blockages and reflux

  • Damage to the kidneys caused by systemic diseases including lupus and diabetes

  • Glomerular diseases including childhood nephrotic syndrome. Glomerular diseases attack the kidney filtering units.

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome, a digestive system infection that causes kidney damage from toxic byproducts

  • Hereditary kidney diseases including polycystic kidney disease and Alport syndrome

  • Kidney cancer, often treated by removing all or part of the affected kidney

  • Kidney failure, when your kidneys are unable to remove waste products from your body

  • Kidney stones, often due to chronic dehydration

What tests does a pediatric nephrologist perform or order?

A pediatric nephrologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening test tests including:

  • Biopsy to find the source of any abnormalities found in blood and urine testing, as well as to determine the extent of damage to the kidneys

  • Blood and urine tests to reveal how well the kidneys are filtering waste and fluids, and to see whether an infection is present

  • Imaging procedures including computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound to check for blockages and structural abnormalities in the kidneys

What procedures and treatments does a pediatric nephrologist perform or order?

Pediatric nephrologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage kidney-related conditions in children. Pediatric nephrologists are trained in both medical and minor surgical treatments, such as placing renal artery stents. Pediatric nephrologists do not perform major surgery, such as kidney transplant, but they are familiar with all aspects of the patient’s care before and after surgery. Depending on your condition, your nephrologist will refer you to a general surgeon, transplant surgeon, or other surgical specialist, such as a urologist.

Common procedures and treatments include:  

  • Dialysis access procedures into a blood vessel for easy access to your circulation in preparation for dialysis treatments

  • Dialysis to artificially filter toxins and fluids out of the blood when the kidneys can no longer perform this function

  • Kidney stone treatment to break up kidney stones using medication, surgery, or extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL)

  • Post-kidney transplant treatment and care to ensure that transplanted kidneys function correctly and to treat side effects and conditions caused by the transplant procedure

  • Renal angioplasty and renal stent placement to widen a renal artery and improve blood flow to the kidneys.

Pediatric nephrologist training and certification

A doctor may practice pediatric nephrology without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification in pediatric nephrology verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in pediatrics, fellowship training in pediatric nephrology, and has passed competency examinations.

A board-certified pediatric nephrologist has earned certification as a pediatric nephrologist by the American Board of Pediatrics.

A board-certified pediatric nephrologist has:

  • Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree

  • Completed three years of specialized residency training and board certification in pediatrics

  • Completed three years to four years of specialized fellowship training in pediatric nephrology

  • Passed a written certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in pediatric nephrology

To maintain board certification in pediatric nephrology, a doctor must participate in the American Board of Pediatrics Maintenance of Certification program.

Pediatric nephrology is a subspecialty of pediatrics. There are no board-certified subspecialties of pediatric nephrology itself. However, pediatric nephrologists may have expertise or perform research in specific diseases or complications related to the kidneys, such as hereditary kidney disease, kidney transplant, or urinary tract disease. Therefore, it may be helpful to search for a pediatric nephrologist who focuses on your child’s particular condition.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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