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Glomerulonephritis

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Glomerulonephritis or glomerular nephritis is inflammation of the glomeruli- the micro filters that purify the main bloodstream. It’s a serious condition as the kidney becomes incapable of eliminating the extra fluid and waste materials from the body. Glomerulonephritis can be an acute condition, that is, appears suddenly or chronic, that is, progresses gradually.

When the condition occurs on its own, it is called as primary glomerulonephritis. When another disease such as diabetes or lupus leads to glomerulonephritis, it is called as secondary glomerulonephritis. The severe or continuous inflammation of the glomeruli, can lead to damage to the kidneys.

This is a life-threatening disease that requires prompt medical treatment. The kidneys may stop working and lead to kidney failure.

Symptoms of Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis can be acute (sudden) or chronic (progressive). The classic symptoms of glomerulonephritis are:

  • Rust or pink colored urine due to presence of blood
  • Decreased urination
  • Foamy urine due to protein overload
  • Edema in face, hands and feet
  • Fluid retention in the lungs, which causes coughing
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue and tiredness

When to see a doctor?

You cannot afford delay in seeking medical help if you experience reduced urination, observes a change in color and appearance of urine.

Causes of glomerulonephritis

Inflammation in glomeruli can be caused by several factors- it could be from an infection or autoimmune disorder, blood or lymphatic system disorders, etc. We summarize them below:

  • Infection with group A streptococci bacteria
  • Viral infection- HIV, Hepatitis B and C
  • Diabetic nephropathy
  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus, Goodpasture's syndrome
  • Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Inflammation in blood vessel – vasculitis
  • Scarring of glomeruli

Complications of glomerulonephritis

  • Decline in renal function or chronic  kidney failure due to hypertension
  • Nephrotic syndrome- high protein in urine
  • Acute renal failure
  • Increased risk of developing blood clots -thrombosis

Diagnosis of glomerulonephritis

Your doctor shall analyze the symptoms and check with your medical history. Glomerulonephritis can be confirmed only after combining the reports of biochemical tests and imaging tests that the patient needs to undergo. They are:

  • Urinalysis for presence of blood and protein in urine. It’s also tested for white blood cells which indicate infection in nephrons.
  • Blood tests to check the level of antigens and antibodies.Levels of sodium, potassium, urea and waste products are also measured to check renal function.
  • Throat swab test- a sample of cells is collected from the inner lining of the throat and is tested for infections
  • In case of chronic glomerulonephritis, a kidney biopsy may be recommended.  A small sample of kidney tissue is collected under local anesthesia.
  • X ray, ultrasonography and CT scan of the kidneys are also performed to find out the underlying cause.

Treatment of glomerulonephritis

There are several forms of treatments which completely depend on the diagnostic test reports, the severity of the damage and whether it’s acute or chronic.

  • Lowering hypertension is one of the vital treatment strategies wherein the patient may be administered diuretics, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
  • Antiviral or antibiotic therapy is done to treat infections
  • Corticosteroids and immune-suppressing drugs are effective in combating inflammation. Antithrombotics  may be prescribed to manage blood clotting
  • Plasmapheresis  is another line of therapy which involves removing the antibodies from the blood and replacing the plasma
  • If you have chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, then dialysis or kidney transplant are the treatment options

Taking care at home

Your doctor will advise you to restrict drinking fluids that contain high amount of electrolytes (sodium and potassium) i.e. sports drinks and even alcohol

Your diet will be modified and it will be precisely low or free from protein. Additionally, you also need to control intake of potassium and salt. A complete diet chart will be provided to you.

Follow up visits will be scheduled by your doctor and your blood chemistry will be monitored to procure evidence for improvement.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 28, 2015