What is Glomerulonephritis?

The kidneys rely on tiny structures known as glomeruli for filtration, and damage to these filters is known as glomerulonephritis. This disease can occur as an acute attack that comes on sudden, or as a chronic condition that doesn’t end. Most cases lack a definite cause, but Lupus, HIV, and similar auto-immune disorders are some of the only confirmed causes. Other known causes include strep throat, bacterial infections, Diabetes, and vasculitis.

What are the Symptoms of Glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis can lead to permanent kidney damage and life-threatening organ failure, so it’s essential to seek immediate treatment if you notice the following the signs.

Signs include

  • Swelling due to fluid retention in your limbs and face
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, with no other confirmed cause
  • Foam forming in your urine due to excess protein
  • Dark, brown or pink colored urine due to blood and clots from the kidneys

Blood tests and urine tests are used to initially diagnose this disease, and kidney biopsies are often used to determine the extent of damage to tailor the right treatment.

Glomerulonephritis Causes

Glomerulonephritis may be either an acute or chronic condition. Both types may have the same causes, but there are some differences.

The primary cause of both types of glomerulonephritis is an infection in another part of the body that makes its way to the kidneys damaging the glomeruli. The infection that is most likely to do this is the bacteria responsible for strep throat. When strep throat is left untreated, or when it is not completely destroyed by antibiotics, the bacteria can reach the kidneys, causing extensive damage.

Several other infective agents may cause glomerulonephritis. The bacteria that causes endocarditis may enter the kidneys and damage them. Viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are also known to cause glomerulonephritis.

Chronic glomerulonephritis may be caused by several types of autoimmune disorders, with lupus being primarily responsible. Goodpasture’s Syndrome and vasculitis may also cause damage to the glomeruli.

Those patients with chronic hypertension and longstanding diabetes may develop glomerulonephritis as well. Both of these conditions put great stress and damage on the kidneys over time.

How is Glomerulonephritis Treated?

In acute cases with kidney failure, dialysis is used to stabilize the patient and replace some of the organ’s function. Plasmapheresis is blood filtration process used to reduce protein levels in the blood for serious cases. Most medications for glomerulonephritis aim at dealing with the cause of the damage, such as an overactive immune system. Blood pressure control medications also reduce the workload on the kidneys.

For mild acute cases, treatment may not be necessary at all. Lifestyle changes to control this disease include switching to a low salt, limited protein diet, controlling fluid intake, and avoiding potassium. You’ll need routine blood tests on this kind of diet to make sure you’re not going into a deficiency.

Glomerulonephritis Prevention

The best way to prevent glomerulonephritis caused by the strep throat or endocarditis bacteria is to make sure to finish any antibiotic prescribed by the doctor. Any bacteria left in the bloodstream could enter the kidneys.

General measures to prevent infection would also be helpful. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day. Try to avoid those with coughs and colds if possible. Practicing safe sex will help prevent HIV and Hepatitis C which may cause glomerulonephritis.

Maintaining a normal level of blood pressure is important. The best ways to keep blood pressure low is through a combination of diet and exercise. Eating a low sodium and low fat diet will help reduce blood pressure. Moderate levels of aerobic exercise a few times each week contribute to overall cardiovascular health.

Keeping blood sugar low is also important for prevention. Proper exercise and a diet low in fat and cholesterol will help to keep blood sugar at a normal level.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
June 23, 2018