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Glomerulonephritis

Definition

Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease in which the part of your kidneys that helps filter waste and fluids from the blood is damaged.

Alternative Names

Glomerulonephritis - chronic; Chronic nephritis; Glomerular disease; Necrotizing glomerulonephritis; Glomerulonephritis - crescentic; Crescentic glomerulonephritis; Rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Glomerulonephritis may be caused by problems with the body's immune system. Often, the exact cause of glomerulonephritis is unknown.

Damage to the glomeruli causes blood and protein to be lost in the urine.

The condition may develop quickly, and kidney function is lost within weeks or months (called rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis).

A quarter of people with chronic glomerulonephritis have no history of kidney disease.

The following may increase your risk of this condition:

  • Blood or lymphatic system disorders
  • Exposure to hydrocarbon solvents
  • History of cancer
  • Infections such as strep infections, viruses, heart infections, or abscesses

Many conditions cause or increase the risk for glomerulonephritis, including:

Symptoms

Common symptoms of glomerulonephritis are:

  • Blood in the urine (dark, rust-colored, or brown urine)
  • Foamy urine (due to excess protein in the urine)
  • Swelling (edema) of the face, eyes, ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen

Symptoms may also include the following:

The symptoms of chronic kidney disease may develop over time.

Chronic renal failure symptoms may gradually develop.

Signs and tests

Because symptoms may develop slowly, the disorder may be discovered when you have an abnormal urinalysis during a routine physical or examination for another condition.

Signs of glomerulonephritis can include:

  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Signs of reduced kidney function

A kidney biopsy confirms the diagnosis.

Later, signs of chronic kidney disease may be seen, including:

  • Nerve inflammation (polyneuropathy)
  • Signs of fluid overload, including abnormal heart and lung sounds
  • Swelling (edema)

Imaging tests that may be done include:

Urinalysis and other urine tests include:

This disease may also cause abnormal results on the following blood tests:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the disorder, and the type and severity of symptoms. High blood pressure may be hard to control. Controlling high blood pressure is usually the most important part of treatment.

Medicines that may be prescribed include:

  • Blood pressure medications to control high blood pressure, most commonly angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers
  • Corticosteroids
  • Medications that suppress the immune system

A procedure called plasmapheresis may sometimes be used for glomerulonephritis caused by immune problems. The fluid part of the blood that contains antibodies is removed and replaced with intravenous fluids or donated plasma (that does not contain antibodies). Removing antibodies may reduce inflammation in the kidney tissues.

You may need to limit salt, fluids, protein, and other substances.

Persons with this condition should be closely watched for signs of kidney failure. Dialysis or a kidney transplant may eventually be needed.

Support Groups

You can often ease the stress of illness by joining support groups where members share common experiences and problems.

See: Kidney disease - support group

Expectations (prognosis)

Glomerulonephritis may be temporary and reversible, or it may get worse. Progressive glomerulonephritis may lead to:

If you have nephrotic syndrome and it can be controlled, you may also be able to control other symptoms. If it cannot be controlled, you may develop end-stage kidney disease.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have a condition that increases your risk of glomerulonephritis
  • You develop symptoms of glomerulonephritis

Prevention

There is no way to prevent most cases of glomerulonephritis. Some cases may be prevented by avoiding or limiting exposure to organic solvents, mercury, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

References

Appel GB. Glomerular disorders and nephrotic syndromes. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 122.

Nachman PH, Jennette JC, Falk RJ. Primary glomerular disease. In: Brenner BM, ed. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 30.


Review Date: 9/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Herbert Y. Lin, MD, PhD, Nephrologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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