IgA Nephropathy (Berger’s Disease)

What is IgA Nephropathy?

IgA nephropathy, which is also called Berger’s disease, causes kidney inflammation that impacts the kidney’s ability to properly filter waste from your blood. Immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that helps fight infection and ward off invading viruses, builds up in the kidneys over time and causes the inflammation.

The disease usually progresses slowly and can impact different people in varying ways. Some patients have few symptoms, others leak blood into their urine and have some minor issues, and still others ultimately experience kidney failure.

There’s no proven reason why IgA builds up in the kidneys, but the condition tends to run in families and be more prevalent in some ethnic groups. If you have some types of liver diseases, celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or have had HIV or some kinds of bacterial infections, you may be at higher risk of developing IgA nephropathy.

What are the Symptoms of IgA Nephropathy?

Initially, IgA nephropathy causes few symptoms. Often, you discover you have the disease only when routine tests uncover proteins or blood in the urine.

Symptoms include

As the disease progresses, you may notice dark colored urine caused by excess red blood cells, swelling in your hands and feet, pain in your lower side or high blood pressure.

IgA Nephropathy Causes

IgA Nephropathy or Berger’s Disease occurs when too much of a protein called Immunoglobulin A is released as part of an immune system response, and some of that protein then lodges in the kidneys, causing inflammation of the glomeruli. The glomeruli are the tiny filtering mechanisms that clean out the blood as it travels through the kidneys. When chronic inflammation occurs as a result of the inflammation caused by the Immunoglobulin A, it damages those glomeruli and impacts the kidneys’ function. What causes the Immunoglobulin A to lodge in the kidneys is not exactly understood. However, there are conditions and factors that have been directly linked to the development of Berger’s Disease. These include genetics, as IgA Nephropathy does tend to run in families and certain ethnicities, liver disease, celiac disease and certain infections, including HIV.

How is IgA Nephropathy Treated?

There is no cure for IgA nephropathy, but symptoms can be treated for many years without any issues. Some patients go into complete remission, while others manage the condition their whole lives.

Treatment includes

Medications, including high blood pressure medication, anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressants, can treat many of the symptoms of this disease.

Your doctor may also suggest that you take medication to lower your cholesterol. If it is high, you may be more likely to incur long-term kidney damage.

Fish oil supplements have helped some patients prevent further kidney damage. Talk to your doctor about whether this treatment would work for you.

IgA Nephropathy Prevention

While nothing can be done to affect heredity and ethnic background, some of the other conditions and diseases known to contribute to Berger’s Disease can be prevented. Liver disease such as cirrhosis is often the result of excessive alcohol abuse. Limiting alcohol intake would avoid the risk of cirrhosis of the liver and the development of IgA Nephropathy. Chronic Hepatitis B and C, other liver diseases, can be prevented by careful blood transfusions and avoiding risky behaviors that can cause the diseases such as sharing intravenous needles. In the event the patient has developed Hepatitis, medical treatment is available to control and even cure the disease. Good medical management of Hepatitis would prevent Berger’s Disease from developing. Similarly, if the patient suffers from celiac disease (an intolerance of gluten), avoiding gluten can help prevent complications from celiac disease, including Berger’s Disease, from arising.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 18, 2018