Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease that damages the kidneys’ ability to remove waste and excess fluids. Glomerulonephritis can be acute (sudden) or chronic (gradual). It can also be primary or secondary. Secondary glomerulonephritis means that it is caused by another disease, such as lupus or diabetes.
There are several problems of the body’s immune system that can cause glomerulonephritis; as a result, the precise cause is unknown. The kidney is made up of several functional units, called nephrons, which carry out filtration as well as regulation of water balance in the body. Glomeruli, for which the disease is named, are capillaries (small blood vessels) in the nephron of the kidney that filter blood. Damage to the glomeruli, specifically inflammation, causes the body to lose blood and proteins, as they exit the body through urine. The inflammation also allows for dangerous levels of fluids and wastes to build up in the body, otherwise known as kidney failure.
Some known causes of glomerulonephritis are infections (such as strep infection and viral infections), immune diseases (like lupus, Goodpasture’s syndrome, and IgA nephropathy), vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), and scarring of the glomeruli (from hypertension, diabetic kidney disease, and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis). History of cancer, blood or lymphatic system disorders, and exposure to hydrocarbon solvents, infections, viruses, and diabetes may increase the patient’s chances of getting glomerulonephritis.
Symptoms of glomerulonephritis are:
- blood in the urine (dark, rust-colored, or brown urine)
- foamy urine due to excess protein (known as proteinuria)
- swelling (edema) of the face, eyes, ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen
- abdominal pain
- general ill feeling
- joint and muscle aches
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- excessive urination
Glomerulonephritis is a kidney disease that can damage the kidney’s ability to filter and excrete waste.
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Since the symptoms develop slowly, glomerulonephritis is usually discovered when a urine test comes back with abnormal results rather than from a regular physical examination. Glomerulonephritis can cause high blood pressure. Lab tests can sometimes show anemia (not enough red blood cells in the blood) or reduced kidney functioning (eventually leading to kidney failure). A kidney biopsy (removing a sample of the patient’s tissue for analysis) often confirms the diagnosis.
Imaging tests include CT scans (cross sectional X-rays) of the abdomen, ultrasounds of the abdomen, and Intravenous Pyelogram (an X-ray of the urinary system). Urine tests are the most common diagnostic test; physicians look for levels of protein, blood cells, uric acid (waste product), and creatinine (another waste product) in the urine to determine if a patient has glomerulonephritis. There are also some blood tests used to diagnose this disease; they are mainly targeted at tested antibodies produced by the glomerulus in the nephron.
Glomerulonephritis can be temporary and reversible, or it can worsen. Long term glomerulonephritis may lead to chronic kidney failure. In the case of acute glomerulonephritis, only 0.1% of children and 25% of adults develop chronic kidney failure. These are about the same numbers as in chronic glomerulonephritis.
Treatment usually depends on the cause of the disorder, and the type and severity of symptoms. The main target of treatment is to decrease inflammation. High blood pressure may be difficult to control, but is generally the most important aspect of treatment. Here are some ways to get treated for glomerulonephritis:
- Taking medicines that may include blood pressure medications, corticosteroids to relieve symptoms, diuretics (any medication which promotes urine production), fish oil supplements, antibiotics, and others that suppress the immune system, each depending on the cause of the condition.
- Undergoing plasmapheresis (for some cases of glomerulonephritis.) In this procedure, the fluid part of the blood which contains antibodies is replaced with intravenous fluids without antibodies. This reduces inflammation in the kidney tissues.
- Following dietary restrictions on salt, fluids, and protein are recommended. Dialysis or a kidney transplant may eventually be necessary.
Featured Image Source: Project 365 – Day 149 – 02/12/08 by Peter Gerdes