Glomerulonephritis is a kidney condition that involves damage to the glomeruli. Glomeruli are the tiny structures within the kidney that filter blood.
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs located in the back just below the rib cage. Each kidney is about the size of a fist. The two kidneys filter blood, catch needed substances and return them to the circulation, and dispose of wastes in the urine. If the kidneys don’t filter properly, wastes build up in the blood.
There are two types of glomerulonephritis:
- Acute glomerulonephritis begins suddenly.
- Chronic glomerulonephritis develops gradually over several years.
Anatomy of the Kidney
Causes of glomerulonephritis include:
- Streptococcal infection of the throat known as strep throat
- Streptococcal infection of the skin known as impetigo
- Hereditary causes
- Immune diseases, such as lupus
- Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Vasculitis, which is also known as inflammation of the blood vessels
- Viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus
- Endocarditis, which is an infection of the valves of the heart
- Drugs and toxins
Factors that increase your chances of getting glomerulonephritis include:
- Family history of glomerulonephritis
- The presence of a known cause of glomerulonephritis
- Exposure to a cause
- High blood pressure
Glomerulonephritis sometimes causes no symptoms and is discovered during a routine urine test. When present, the symptoms of acute and chronic glomerulonephritis differ from one another.
The symptoms of acute glomerulonephritis may include:
- Blood in urine
- Foamy appearance of urine
- Less frequent urination
- Swelling in the morning, especially in the face, feet, hands, and abdomen
Chronic glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney failure. It may cause these symptoms:
- Feeling tired
- Dry, itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor appetite
- Muscle cramps at night
- Swelling of the face, feet, hands, or abdomen
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a nephrologist who specializes in kidney disease for further diagnostic testing and treatment.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Kidney biopsy
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Treatment will depend on the cause of glomerulonephritis. The following steps may be taken to help kidney function or reduce further damage:
- Diuretics to reduce fluid retention
- Medications to suppress the immune system such as steroids
- ACE inhibitors to control blood pressure and protein excretion
- Restrict salt and water intake.
- Restrict intake of potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium.
- Cut down on protein in the diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
- Take calcium supplements.
If the kidneys are unable to remove sufficient waste from the blood, dialysis may be required. Temporary dialysis may be sufficient for acute glomerulonephritis. If it leads to permanent kidney failure, chronic glomerulonephritis will require long-term dialysis or kidney transplant.
The following steps may decrease your risk of glomerulonephritis:
- See a doctor promptly if you have a sore throat that might be due to strep.
- To reduce the risk of getting viral infections, including HIV, use safe sex practices and avoid intravenous drug use.
- If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, see your doctor about managing these conditions.
National Kidney Foundation
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
Glomerulonephritis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 1, 2010. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Glomerulonephritis. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/glomerul.cfm. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.