Glomerulonephritis (gloe-mer-u-low-nuh-FRY-tis) is inflammation of the tiny filters in your kidneys (glomeruli). Glomeruli remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from your bloodstream and pass them into your urine. Glomerulonephritis can come on suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic).
Glomerulonephritis occurs on its own or as part of another disease, such as lupus or diabetes. Severe or prolonged inflammation associated with glomerulonephritis can damage your kidneys. Treatment depends on the type of glomerulonephritis you have.
Blood enters your kidneys through your renal arteries. Your kidneys remove excess fluid and waste material from your blood through units called nephrons. Each nephron contains a filter (glomerulus) that has a network of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. The glomeruli filter waste products and substances your body needs — such as sodium, phosphorus and potassium — which then pass through tiny tubules. The substances your body needs are reabsorbed into your bloodstream. The waste products flow through the ureters — the tubes that lead to the bladder.
Signs and symptoms of glomerulonephritis depend on whether you have the acute or chronic form and the cause. Your first indication that something is wrong might come from symptoms or from the results of a routine urinalysis.
Glomerulonephritis signs and symptoms include:
Make an appointment with your doctor promptly if you have signs or symptoms that concern you.
Many conditions can cause glomerulonephritis. Sometimes the disease runs in families and sometimes the cause is unknown. Conditions that can lead to inflammation of the kidneys' glomeruli include:
Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis. Glomerulonephritis may develop a week or two after recovery from a strep throat infection or, rarely, a skin infection (impetigo). To fight the infection, your body produces extra antibodies that can eventually settle in the glomeruli, causing inflammation.
Children are more likely to develop post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis than are adults, and they're also more likely to recover quickly.
Infrequently, chronic glomerulonephritis runs in families. One inherited form, Alport syndrome, also might impair hearing or vision.
In addition to the causes listed above, glomerulonephritis is associated with certain cancers, such as multiple myeloma, lung cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Glomerulonephritis can damage your kidneys so that they lose their filtering ability. As a result, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and waste build up in your body.
Possible complications of glomerulonephritis include:
There may be no way to prevent most forms of glomerulonephritis. However, here are some steps that might be beneficial:
Glomerulonephritis often comes to light when a routine urinalysis is abnormal. Tests to assess your kidney function and make a diagnosis of glomerulonephritis include:
During a kidney biopsy, your doctor uses a needle to remove a small sample of kidney tissue for lab testing. The biopsy needle is inserted through your skin and is often directed using the guidance of an imaging device, such as ultrasound.
Treatment of glomerulonephritis and your outcome depend on:
Some cases of acute glomerulonephritis, especially those that follow a strep infection, might improve on their own and require no treatment. If there's an underlying cause, such as high blood pressure, an infection or an autoimmune disease, treatment will be directed to the underlying cause.
In general, the goal of treatment is to protect your kidneys from further damage.
For acute glomerulonephritis and acute kidney failure, dialysis can help remove excess fluid and control high blood pressure. The only long-term therapies for end-stage kidney disease are kidney dialysis and kidney transplant. When a transplant isn't possible, often because of poor general health, dialysis is the only option.
If you have kidney disease, your doctor might recommend certain lifestyle changes:
Living with a chronic illness can tax your emotional resources. If you have chronic glomerulonephritis or chronic kidney failure, you might benefit from joining a support group. A support group can provide both sympathetic listening and useful information.
To find a support group, ask your doctor for a recommendation or contact the National Kidney Foundation to find the chapter nearest you.
You'll likely start by seeing your primary care doctor. If lab tests reveal you have kidney damage, you might be referred to a doctor who specializes in kidney problems (nephrologist).
To get ready for your appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do ahead of time, such as limit what you eat and drink. Then make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For glomerulonephritis, some questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as: