Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the tiny filters inside the kidneys (glomeruli). Excess fluid and waste products that the glomeruli remove from the bloodstream are excreted as urine. Glomerulonephritis can happen suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic).
Glomerulonephritis occurs on its own or as part of another disease such as lupus or diabetes. The acute or chronic inflammation associated with glomerulonephritis can damage the kidneys. Treatment depends on the type of glomerulonephritis.
The signs and symptoms of glomerulonephritis vary depending on whether the disease is acute or chronic and on its cause. You may not notice any symptoms of the chronic condition. But the first sign of an abnormality can be noticed in the results of a periodic urinalysis.
Signs and symptoms of glomerulonephritis include:
- Pink urine or the color of a cola drink due to the presence of red blood cells in the urine (hematuria)
- Foamy or bubbling urine due to excess protein in the urine (proteinuria)
- Fluid retention (edema) with swelling of the face, hands, feet and abdomen
- Less urine than usual
- Nausea and vomiting
- Painful muscle cramps
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Many conditions can cause glomerulonephritis. Sometimes the disease is hereditary and sometimes the cause is unknown. Factors that can lead to glomerulonephritis include the following conditions:
Infectious diseases can directly or indirectly cause glomerulonephritis. These infections include:
- Glomerulonephritis after infection with streptococcal bacteria. Glomerulonephritis can occur a week or two after strep throat has healed or, rarely, after a skin infection caused by strep bacteria (impetigo). Inflammation occurs when antibodies against these bacteria build up in the glomeruli. Children are generally more likely than adults to develop glomerulonephritis after infection with strep bacteria, and they recover more quickly.
- Bacterial endocarditis. Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart chambers and emboli. It is not clear whether kidney inflammation is caused by immune system activity alone or by other factors.
- Viral kidney infection. Viral kidney infections such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause inflammation of the glomeruli and other tissues in the kidneys.
- Human immunodeficiency virus. HIV infection can lead to glomerulonephritis and progressive kidney damage even before symptoms of AIDS appear.
Autoimmune diseases are diseases that result from the attack of the immune system on healthy tissue. Here are the autoimmune diseases that can cause glomerulonephritis:
- lupus; Systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease, can affect many parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, heart, and lungs.
- Goodpasture syndrome. It can cause progressive and permanent damage to the kidneys.
- IgA Nephropathy IgA is an antibody and is the first line of defense against infectious agents. IgA nephropathy is caused by the accumulation of antibody deposits in the glomeruli. The inflammation and resulting damage can go unnoticed for a long time. The most common symptom is blood in the urine.
Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels. Here are the types of vasculitis that can cause glomerulonephritis:
- Arteritis This type of vasculitis affects medium and small blood vessels in many parts of the body, including the kidneys, skin, muscles, joints, and digestive tract.
- Granulomatosis with vasculitis. Formerly called Wegener’s granulomatosis, this form of vasculitis affects the small and medium blood vessels of the lungs, upper respiratory tract and kidneys.
Some diseases or conditions cause scarring of the glomeruli, which leads to impaired or decreased kidney function. It includes the following:
- Hypertension. Long-term uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause scarring and glomerulonephritis. Inflammation of the glomeruli prevents the kidneys from performing their function of regulating blood pressure.
- Diabetic kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy). High blood sugar levels contribute to scarring of the glomeruli and increased blood flow through the nephrons.
- Focal sectional glomerulosclerosis. In this case, the scarring spreads sporadically to some of the glomeruli. It may result from another disease, or it may occur for no apparent reason.
Chronic glomerulonephritis is rarely hereditary. One form that can occur due to genetics is Alport syndrome, which can impair hearing or vision.
Glomerulonephritis is associated with certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer, lung cancer, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Glomerulonephritis affects the ability of the nephrons to filter the bloodstream efficiently. Filtration failure leads to:
- Accumulation of waste or toxic substances in the blood
- Poor regularity of essential minerals and nutrients
- loss of red blood cells
- loss of blood protein
Possible complications of glomerulonephritis include:
- Acute renal failure. Acute renal failure is a sudden and rapid deterioration in kidney function, often associated with limitation of the underlying infectious cause. Waste and fluid buildup can be fatal if not treated quickly with an LOF device. The kidneys often resume normal function after recovery.
- Chronic kidney disease. Persistent inflammation leads to long-term damage and deterioration of kidney function. Chronic kidney disease is generally defined as kidney damage or deterioration in kidney function for three months or more. Chronic renal failure can progress to end-stage renal failure which requires either dialysis or a kidney transplant.
- Hypertension. Damage to the glomeruli due to inflammation or scarring can lead to high pressure.
- nephrotic syndrome; Nephrotic syndrome is a condition in which blood proteins in the urine are too high and too low in the bloodstream. These proteins play a role in regulating fluid and cholesterol levels. A drop in blood protein causes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and swelling (edema) of the face, hands, feet, and abdomen. In rare cases, nephrotic syndrome can cause a blood clot in a blood vessel in the kidney.
There may be no way to prevent some forms of glomerulonephritis from forming. However, we give you some steps that can be useful:
- Seek immediate treatment for a strep throat infection or impetigo.
- To prevent infections that can lead to some forms of glomerulonephritis, such as HIV and hepatitis, follow safe sex guidelines and avoid intravenous drug use.
- Control high blood pressure to reduce the risk of kidney damage.
- Take care to control your blood sugar to avoid diabetic nephropathy.