What is Glomerulonephritis (Nephritis)?
Glomerulonephritis results in inflammation or damage to the glomeruli in your kidneys. This type of tissue is responsible for filtering waste from your blood.
Also known as nephritis, there are a number of underlying causes which can provoke this condition. These can range from viral infections, drugs to autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms can be mild to severe, depending on whether the condition is acute (short term) or chronic (long term). (1)
Your kidneys work to remove excess water and waste products from your blood. The waste is then removed from your body as urine.
This essential pair of organs also plays a role in red blood cell production and controlling blood pressure. (2)
The glomeruli are networks of small blood vessels within your kidneys. They are uniquely formed to support waste filtration from the blood.
There are an estimated two million glomeruli in both of your kidneys. Damage to these structures can impair how well your kidneys work. (3)
Glomerulonephritis can be caused by various illnesses and diseases. Viral and bacterial infections can be a potential trigger of the disorder. High blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes can also result in glomerulonephritis. (4)
Although it is uncommon, glomerulonephritis can be inherited. Certain types of cancers are also associated with the condition.
Abusing non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can affect glomeruli. NSAIDs are non-prescription drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. (5)
The symptoms of glomerulonephritis (nephritis) can be described as follows: (6)
Dark urine can be a sign that your kidneys are not working as they should. Red blood cells filtering into your urine darken it to a color very much like steeped black tea.
If your glomeruli becomes inflamed or damaged, it can result in edema. This is a type of swelling in which fluid buildup affects your feet, hands, face or abdomen.
Urine that is foamy can be caused by glomerulonephritis. This symptom is due to high amounts of protein filtering into your urine.
If glomerulonephritis advances, it can result in kidney failure. Muscle cramping, particularly at night, can be a warning sign of this grave condition.
Fatigue and Sleep Disturbances
If your glomeruli sustain long-term damage, it can affect overall kidney function. In turn, this can cause you to feel fatigue. You may also have difficulty sleeping. (7)
Glomerulonephritis can occur as an acute condition or a chronic one. Each type manifests as follows:
In some cases, the acute form of the disorder may resolve itself without treatment. (8)
This often occurs with glomeruli inflammation resulting from infection with streptococcus bacteria. (9)
The symptoms of this type of nephritis tend to manifest suddenly. Dark urine, swelling and raised blood pressure are typical signs. (10)
Occasionally, acute glomerulonephritis can result in acute kidney failure. The prognosis in this case depends the underlying trigger of the initial inflammation and how rapidly you are treated. (11)
If glomerulonephritis is inherited or is not entirely resolved with treatment, it can escalate into a form of chronic kidney disease (CKD).
CKDs consist of any condition that causes abnormalities in the structure or function of your kidneys for over three months.
CKDs result in kidney impairment due to gradual, progressive damage. In the case of glomerulonephritis, long term inflammation can seriously injure your glomeruli. (12)
The stages of CKD are measured according to your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). The eGFR measures how well your kidneys are filtering waste.
CKD progress through the following stages: (13)
At this stage, your kidneys are functioning at 90 percent or above. Damage is minimal.
A slight loss of kidney function begins to manifest. Kidney function is around 60 to 80 percent of natural capability.
There is now a moderate impairment to your kidneys ability to filter waste. Your kidneys are now working at between 45 to 59 percent of normal capacity.
By now, damage to the kidneys is progressing and becoming more severe. Your glomerular filtration rate is at 30 to 44 percent of what it should be.
At stage 4, kidney function is severely impacted upon. Your kidneys are now only working at a level between 15 to 29 percent.
Stage 5 entails total kidney failure (renal failure). This means your kidneys are barely able to filter waste as they should. Function at this stage is less than 15 percent.
Glomerulonephritis can be diagnosed through a series of tests. These will be performed if your doctor suspects you have the disorder based on your symptoms.
A urine analysis will check for protein, red blood cells and white blood cells in your urine. These are all indicators of potential glomeruli damage or inflammation.
Your doctor will also check how well your kidneys are filtering waste by testing your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). This is measured by taking a blood sample. (14)
You may also undergo imaging tests, such as an ultrasound to visually check for kidney damage.
Finally, a kidney biopsy is the last step to establish whether or not you have glomerulonephritis. A small amount of tissue will be taken from one or both of your kidneys to be examined in a laboratory. (15)
Treatment for glomerulonephritis can include one or more of these options:
Whether your condition is acute or chronic, changing your diet can improve symptoms. It is recommended to avoid excessively salty foods if you have glomerulonephritis.
You should also try to avoid beverages and foods which contain high levels of potassium. (16)
Treating Existing Conditions
Certain causes of glomerulonephritis can be treated to reduce symptoms or cure it entirely.
For example, if you have a bacterial infection you may receive antibiotics to resolve it. Viral infections can be addressed with antiviral drugs. (17, 18)
High cholesterol and high blood pressure can occur alongside glomerulonephritis. You may be prescribed medication to manage these conditions. (19)
Immunosuppressants are prescribed for severe glomerulonephritis due to immune system issues. They are designed to suppress immune system activity, reducing symptoms of inflammation.
Plasma exchange is a treatment to remove excess plasma from your blood. Plasma contains certain proteins which can exacerbate severe glomerulonephritis.
A machine will slowly extract your blood and separate plasma from it. The plasma-free blood is then re-inserted into your body. (20)
Dialysis is a treatment option for kidney failure or severely damaged kidneys.
Waste will be filtered from your blood through a machine, essentially performing the work of your damaged kidneys. (21)
If your glomerulonephritis is chronic, you will likely require dialysis long term. (22)
Chronic glomerulonephritis can result in failure of one or both of your kidneys. A kidney transplant may be an option in this scenario. (23)
A kidney transplant is a major surgery that replaces a failing kidney with a healthy one. This surgery can also eliminate the need for lifelong dialysis. (24)
What is glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Glomerulonephritis is a condition causing damage to the glomeruli in your kidneys.
What are the signs of glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Signs of glomerulonephritis can include dark or foamy urine, edema, muscle cramps, fatigue and sleep disturbances.
How do you develop glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? The condition can develop as a result of a viral infection, such as hepatitis. Autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, and blood vessel diseases can also cause glomerulonephritis. This disorder can also be inherited, occur with certain cancers or even if you take too many non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
How are you diagnosed for glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Your doctor will perform blood and urine tests to check how your kidneys (and glomeruli) are functioning. You may also receive imaging tests and a kidney biopsy.
What is the best treatment for glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Treatment can include lifestyle changes, treating underlying conditions and immunosuppressants. If your glomerulonephritis has caused severe damage, you may require plasma exchange, dialysis or a kidney transplant.
What are the long term complications of glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Chronic glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney infection, a buildup of fluid in your body and high blood pressure. It can also result in kidney failure. (25)
Is glomerulonephritis (nephritis) considered a disability? Yes, chronic glomerulonephritis is considered a disability. (26)
Is there any cure for glomerulonephritis (nephritis)? Acute glomerulonephritis can be cured in some cases by treating the underlying cause (e.g. infection). It may also resolve itself with time. Chronic glomerulonephritis can be managed with treatment. (27)
Is glomerulonephritis (nephritis) life threatening? Both acute and chronic glomerulonephritis can be life threatening because these conditions can result in kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you cannot survive without dialysis or a kidney transplant. (28)
Glomerulonephritis cannot be prevented entirely, although you can take measures to reduce your risk of contracting illnesses which cause it.
Good hygiene and safe sex practices can significantly lower your chances of contracting hepatitis and HIV, two infections which can raise risks of the disorder. (29)
Restricting the amount of potassium and protein you consume can decrease the amount of waste that collects in your blood. This is important if your kidneys are functioning at a lower level than normal.
If you are diagnosed with chronic glomerulonephritis, try to prioritize your overall health. Quit or avoid smoking and attempt to maintain an ideal weight for your age and height.