Pediatric nephrology is a specialty that provides kidney care for children. Nephrologists focus on the diagnosis and management of kidney-related disorders. A pediatric nephrologist has the specialized skills and expertise to help if your child is dealing with kidney or urinary tract disease, bladder issues, kidney stones or high blood pressure. Pediatric nephrologists treat children from infancy through late adolescence or young adulthood.
They collaborate with other pediatric specialists, such as urologists, pediatricians and surgeons. Often multi-disciplinary teams may be involved in managing cases where kidney disorders are part of broader or complex conditions.
Common kidney conditions in children
Pediatric nephrologists are experts in the diagnosis, treatment and management of a wide range of disorders impacting the kidneys and urinary tract. This includes conditions such as kidney failure, high blood pressure, inherited kidney diseases, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and abnormalities in urine like the presence of blood and protein.
Additionally, they have the expertise to assess and address issues related to growth and development specifically associated with chronic kidney disease. Some children have malformations of their kidneys or urinary tracts since birth. “This can lead to chronic kidney disease for children,” said Dr. Omar Al Masri, pediatric nephrologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System.
Kidney care for children differs from adults
Children are not just small adults. Their bodies are growing and have unique medical needs. These specialists use medical equipment designed just for children. Children usually express their concerns differently than adults do. “Pediatric nephrologists know how to examine and treat children in ways that help them relax and communicate their needs in a developmentally appropriate way,” Dr. Al Masri said.
Furthermore, pediatric nephrology specialists help provide a smooth transition for patients as they transition to their care plan as adults.
Treatment and management of pediatric kidney conditions
Dietary changes support kidney health. This may include adjustments to fluid intake, electrolyte balance and protein intake. “Monitoring these dietary needs are important,” Dr. Al Masri said. “The kidney may not be able to handle elements like phosphorus, potassium and sodium.”
Your child may need medications to manage conditions such as hypertension infections, or to reduce inflammation in the kidneys. Your child’s doctor may also advise caution with other common over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen or similar medicines. “Some populations may develop side effects to these type of medications when they are already dehydrated or having marginal kidney function or if medications are taken excessively,” Dr. Al Masri said.
When kidneys are unable to filter waste and excess fluids from the blood, the patient may require dialysis. In cases of end-stage kidney disease, health care providers may consider kidney transplantation as a treatment option.
Pediatric nephrologists may also focus on preventive care to minimize the risk of pediatric kidney conditions. This includes providing education on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper hydration. “Children can develop hypertension especially when obese, this needs to be discovered and managed,” he said.
They also can advise when symptoms indicate additional medical attention is needed. “Abnormal findings on ultrasound should not be ignored,” Dr. Al Masri said. “Follow-up with pediatric nephrologist is needed for further evaluation and management.”