Glomerulonephritis is the inflammation of tiny filters in the kidneys called the glomeruli. It is most often an autoimmune disorder which occurs due to the response of immune system on the healthy body tissues. Glomerulonephritis can affect the efficiency of filtration of waste materials and fluids from the kidneys.
There are no noticeable symptoms in patients with mild forms of glomerulonephritis. It is mainly diagnosed during the blood and urine tests performed for some other reasons. However, people with severe form of glomerulonephritis may show the following symptoms:
- Swelling of legs and other body parts
- Frothy urine due to the presence of proteins
- High blood pressure
If other body parts are affected, then the below symptoms may be noticed:
- Joint pain
- Breathing problems
Consult the doctor if the symptoms of glomerulonephritis especially frothy urine, swelling of body parts are noticed.
The causes may vary based on the type of glomerulonephritis.
Acute glomerulonephritis occurs in response to an abscessed tooth or due to infections such as strep throat, heart infections and viral infections.
Chronic glomerulonephritis possibly results due to faulty gene which is inherited from the parents. It may also occur in people with a history of cancer or certain immune disorders or those who have been exposed to hydrocarbon solvents.
The following factors increase the risk of developing glomerulonephritis:
- Unusual use of drugs such as naproxen, ibuprofen
- Presence of medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetic kidney disease (known as diabetic nephropathy)
Usually glomerulonephritis is diagnosed during the routine examinations of other medical conditions. The doctor may recommend the following tests to confirm the presence of glomerulonephritis.
- Blood tests – if the glomeruli are affected, the kidneys do not function properly causing an increase in the creatinine levels, abnormal albumin levels, and low levels of red blood cells in the blood
- Urine test – presence of proteins and blood in urine is an indication of glomerulonephritis
To determine the cause of glomerulonephritis, the physician may order for additional blood tests.
The below tests are needed to know if any other kidney problems are present:
- CT scan
- Chest x-rays
- Intravenous pyelogram
Treatment is based on the factors such as the type of glomerulonephritis, its cause and severity. The goal of treatment is to prevent further damage to the kidneys and reverse its function.
If glomerulonephritis has resulted from an underlying medical condition, then the treatment is aimed at removing that cause. For example, high blood pressure is treated with ACE inhibitors such as lisinopril, captopril or ARBs such as losartan, valsartan.
If glomerulonephritis has occurred due to hyperactive immune system, then corticosteroids are given to suppress the immune system. Another technique called plasmapheresis can also help to reduce the immune response. In this method, the plasma of the patient is replaced with donor plasma which does not contain antibodies.
In case of chronic glomerulonephritis, the doctor may suggest the below lifestyle changes along with medications:
- Dietary restrictions on proteins, salt and potassium intake
- Watching the fluid intake
- Taking calcium supplements
Dialysis or kidney transplant is necessary in patients with kidney failure
Due to the damage of the filtering units in the kidneys, the levels of fluids, electrolytes and waste materials increase in the body and can lead to the following complications:
- Nephritic syndrome – loss of proteins in the urine leads to low proteins in the blood
- Hypertension – buildup of waste materials that can result in an increased blood pressure
- Acute kidney failure – a temporary failure of the kidneys to remove the wastes
- Chronic kidney disease – complete loss of kidney function which occurs gradually over several years
- Pulmonary edema – build up of fluids in the air spaces and tissues of the lungs