Nephrology: Keeping your kidneys healthy

February 18, 2016

What is nephrology?

Nephrology is the branch of medicine that deals with the normal working of the kidneys as well as its diseases.

What do your kidneys do?

Kidneys clean waste and extra fluid from your blood, which makes up your urine. Your kidneys also do many other jobs that you need in order to live like balancing the chemicals in your body, helping control your blood pressure, helping to keep your bones healthy, and helping to produce red blood cells.

Most people are born with two kidneys located on each side of their spine, just below their rib cage. Each kidney is the about the size of a fist and are connected to the bladder by tubes call ureters.

What is kidney disease?

Kidney disease refers to permanent damage to your kidneys that can get worse over time. If the damage is very bad, your kidneys may stop working. If this happens, you will need dialysis or a transplant in order to live. Kidney disease can be caused by many different diseases with the most common being diabetes and high blood pressure.

Anyone can develop kidney disease, but you are at more risk if you: have diabetes, have high blood pressure, have heart disease, are African American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American, are over 60 years old, and have HIV/AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 1 in 10 adults in the United States may have chronic kidney disease – that’s over 20 million people.

“Kidney disease doesn’t really have any symptoms until your function is down to about 20 percent,” said Dr. David Woltmann, a nephrologist at UP Health System – Portage.  “Quite often kidney disease is picked up by your family doctor based on a blood test, leg swelling or real high blood pressure. Then they’re referred to a nephrologists.”


Dialysis is a treatment that does some of the things done by healthy kidneys. It is needed when your own kidneys can no longer take care of your body's needs.

UP Health System – Portage has a dialysis center that has been around for 15 years and offers dialysis six days a week. It is the only dialysis center in an 80-mile radius and has a staff consisting of a nephrologist, registered nurses, dieticians, social workers, care coordinators and patient care technicians.

“Typically a patient comes in three times a week for a four-hour treatment,” added Woltmann. “We as a staff love having our center located in the hospital and having access to all the services provided in one building.

“For Copper Country resident to not have to travel far for dialysis treatment is so valuable. We also have a goal of rolling out peritoneal dialysis, or home dialysis, in 2016.”

Simple Steps for Living Healthy

To be sure your kidneys are healthy, see your primary care provider for regular checkups. You should also know your numbers for blood pressure and blood sugar.

Dr. Woltmann adds, “If someone doesn’t have access to healthcare, I ask people to donate blood. When you donate blood you’ll get a rough physical for hypertension which is the second most common cause of chronic kidney disease. Donating blood is good for the community and a good screening process.

“There are also a number of blood pressure screenings held around town that are free of charge.”

Regular exercise and eating a low-fat and low-salt diet can also help prevent diabetes that can lead to kidney disease.

“If you don’t want to see us, the best things are good blood pressure control and good sugar control,” said Woltmann. “That’s about 80 percent of the people we see as a nephrologist.”

UP Health System – Portage has a number of providers that can assist with kidney disease screenings. To learn more, or to schedule a screening, call 906-483-1000.