Glomerulonephritis: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

It is a group of diseases that damage the part of the kidney that filters the blood (called glomerulus).

Other terms you may hear are nephritis and nephrotic syndrome .

When the kidney is injured, it can not eliminate waste and excess fluid in the body. If the disease continues, the kidneys may stop working altogether, causing kidney failure.

Types

There are two types of glomerulonephritis, acute and chronic. The acute form develops suddenly. You can get it after an infection in the throat or on the skin.

Sometimes, you can improve on your own. Other times, your kidneys may stop working unless the correct treatment starts quickly. The first symptoms of acute disease are:

  • Swelling of your face in the morning.
  • Blood in your urine (or brown urine).
  • Urinating less than usual.

You may have trouble breathing and cough due to excess fluid in your lungs. You may also have high blood pressure . If you have one or all of these symptoms, be sure to consult your doctor immediately.

The chronic form can develop silently (without symptoms) for several years. It often leads to complete renal failure. The first signs and symptoms of the chronic form may include:

  • Blood or protein in the urine (hematuria, proteinuria ).
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling of the ankles or face (edema).
  • Frequent nocturnal urination.
  • Urine very bubbly or frothy.

Symptoms of kidney failure

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty to sleep.
  • Dry and itchy skin.
  • Muscular cramps at night.

Causes

What causes acute glomerulonephritis?

Acute disease can be caused by infections such as strep throat . It can also be caused by other diseases, such as lupus , Goodpasture syndrome, Wegener’s disease and polyarteritis nodosa.

Early diagnosis and timely treatment are important to prevent kidney failure.

What causes chronic glomerulonephritis?

Sometimes, the disease occurs in the family. This type often appears in young men who may also have hearing and vision loss.

Some forms are caused by changes in the immune system. However, in many cases, the cause is not known. Sometimes, you will have an acute attack of the disease and will develop the chronic form years later.

Diagnosis

The first clues are the signs and symptoms. Finding proteins and blood cells in your urine is another sign. Blood tests will help the doctor determine what type of disease he has and how much he has damaged the kidneys.

In some cases, a test called a kidney biopsy may be needed. In this test, a small portion of your kidney is removed with a special needle and looked under a microscope. A biopsy will help the doctor plan the best treatment for you.

Can glomerulonephritis be prevented?

Not until more is known about its causes. However, good hygiene, practicing “safe sex” and avoiding IV drugs are useful to prevent viral infections such as HIV and hepatitis, which could lead to this disease.

If you have the chronic type of glomerulonephritis, it is very important to control your blood pressure as this can slow down kidney damage. Your doctor may tell you to eat less protein. A dietitian trained to work with kidney patients (a kidney dietitian) can be very helpful in planning your diet.

Treatment

The acute form can disappear by itself. Sometimes you may need medication or even temporary treatment with an artificial kidney machine to remove extra fluid and control high blood pressure and kidney failure.

Antibiotics are not used for acute glomerulonephritis, but are important in the treatment of other forms of disease related to bacterial infection. If your illness gets worse quickly, you may be given high doses of medications that affect your immune system.

Sometimes your doctor may order plasmapheresis, a special blood filtration process to remove harmful proteins from your blood .

There is no specific treatment for the chronic form of the disease. Your doctor can tell you that:

  • Eat less protein, salt and potassium.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Take diuretics (water pills) to treat the swelling.
  • Take calcium supplements.

What is nephrotic syndrome?

Nephrotic syndrome (also called nephrosis) occurs when the kidneys begin to lose large amounts of protein in the urine. As your kidneys get worse, more fluid and salt builds up in your body. This causes you to have swelling (edema), high blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels.

The nephrotic syndrome can come from kidney diseases or other diseases such as diabetes and lupus.

Some medications, IV drug abuse and HIV (the AIDS virus) can also cause it. Sometimes, the nephrotic syndrome disappears after treatment. Other times, this condition can last for many years and eventually lead to kidney failure .