Who Treats Chronic Kidney Disease?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2022

The kidneys filter extra water and waste out of the blood and make urine. They also make hormones that help control blood pressure and trigger the body to make red blood cells. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term health condition in which your kidneys do not work as well as they should.1

The type of doctor who treats kidney disease depends on the stage of your disease and what caused it. Because the kidneys perform so many body functions, many medical professionals may be involved in your care.1

Primary care provider

A primary care provider (PCP) is the doctor you see for regular care. Examples include treating your for the flu or a symptom you are concerned about. Your PCP may be a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Depending on your insurance, you may need a referral from your PCP to see a specialist.1

Your PCP will be who you are most likely to see during the early stages of CKD. Once you reach stage 3, you should also see a specialist called a nephrologist. Even if you see a nephrologist, your PCP will help manage your kidney disease and any other health problems you may have. Common conditions that people with CKD have include diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.1


A nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in kidney care. These doctors get extra training in kidney health after earning their medical degree. Your PCP may refer you to a nephrologist if:2

  • You have a complicated case of kidney disease
  • Your CKD is getting worse quickly
  • Your CKD is becoming severe (GFR below 30 or with higher GFR plus protein in the urine)

Nephrologists work in hospitals, doctor's offices, and dialysis centers. If your kidneys begin to fail, your nephrologist will help you decide on a treatment course. They may recommend dialysis, kidney transplant, or conservative care. Conservative care means you choose not to undergo dialysis or transplant.2


A urologist is a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the urinary tract system. This system includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. If your kidney disease is caused by urine backing up into the kidneys, you may be referred to a urologist.2,3


If heart failure or blood vessel disease are causing your kidney disease, you may need to see a cardiologist. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in managing heart and blood vessel diseases.2


An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in hormone imbalances and diabetes. If your kidney disease is caused by diabetes or a hormone imbalance, you may need to see an endocrinologist.4


There are a variety of nurses who help people with CKD. Some specialize in kidney disease and may be called a nephrology nurse or dialysis nurse. They may work in a doctor's office, hospital, or dialysis center. Or they may work for a home health agency. Generally, they help people learn to understand and manage their CKD and other health conditions.5


A registered dietitian is a nutrition expert. These medical experts work with people to develop an eating plan that helps them manage their health. Some dietitians specialize in working with people who have kidney disease or kidney failure. They are called renal dietitians, and they have extra training in the special needs of people with kidney disease. Many work in dialysis centers.1


A pharmacist fills prescriptions and can help you learn more about the drugs you are taking. They can also review the prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements you take. This can help you avoid taking unsafe combinations or drugs that harm your kidneys.1

Diabetes educator

If your kidney disease is caused by diabetes, your doctor may refer you to a diabetes educator. These people may have training as a nurse, dietitian, or pharmacist. They educate people on how to manage their disease and reduce problems related to diabetes.1,6

Social worker

If you are nearing kidney failure, you may be referred to a dialysis social worker. This person helps people prepare for the life changes and costs that come with dialysis and kidney failure.1,2

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