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How do physicians check your kidneys' function?

Most people know that getting a stress test is a way to test your heart's function. But how do you test your kidney function? You might have heard doctors mention words like "creatinine", or "GFR" when checking how good or bad your kidneys are doing. Although there are a lot of methods by which the kidneys' performance can be measured, I will explain the ones that are used most often in clinical setting

How does contrast/dye given during a CT scan harm your kidneys? What can you do to prevent and minimize the damage?

Certain types of CT scans will often require that the patient get intravenous (iv) "dye" or contrast to make the organs stand out and delineate them better. This usually would lead to better images with greater sensitivity that help the radiologist in picking up features that would otherwise get missed. The downside however is that this very contrast could sometimes cause damage to the kidneys. The medical term for this is "contrast induced nephropathy" (CIN). What do you then do in a situation where iv contrast is necessarily required? Lets try and understand a few nuances about contrast-mediated kidney damage, and what you can do about it?

What are "kidney cysts"? Should I be worried? How do you treat them?

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Cysts, or abnormal pockets of fluid filled sacs, are a common finding on imaging studies like ultrasounds that are done on the kidney. I often see concerned patients in consultation about this finding. The question in that situation is...should you be worried if you discovered that you have cyst/s in your kidney?

HOW COMMON ARE KIDNEY CYSTS?
Cysts in the kidney are a pretty common occurrence. They tend to get more prevalent in the older age groups. For instance, 11.5% of individuals aged 50-70, and 22.1% of all individuals aged over 70 yrs will have at least one cyst in the kidney. However, the challenge is to identify whether it is a benign age related finding or something as serious as cancer (which can present as cysts). Cysts often will have no symptoms, and will usually be discovered incidentally as part of imaging of the kidneys for unrelated reasons.

When do you really need to start seeing a nephrologist (a kidney doctor)?

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I often call kidney disease the "Rodney Dangerfield of Medicine". It gets no respect! Well, outside of the medical community, the same could be said for nephrologists (to a certain extent)! No one is quite sure what they do, or why does anybody need to see one anyway.  For some, we are just another version of urologists. Nephrologists, as the readers of this blog know are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease, electrolytes, high blood pressure, dialysis, kidney stones, etc.