Membranous Nephropathy

What is Membranous Nephropathy?

Membranous Nephropathy is a rare kidney disorder that involves thickening of the lining of the organ. As the tiny blood vessels become chronically inflamed, they deposit higher than normal levels of proteins in the urine.

Initial diagnosis is usually made with a urine test. It can be caused by serious organ infections, cancer, heavy metal poisoning, or autoimmune conditions. It’s possible to manage membranous nephropathy for many years with basic treatment, but severe cases may lead to kidney failure.

What are the Symptoms of Membranous Nephropathy?

This form of nephropathy has distinct symptoms and can cause complications like high blood pressure and blood clots.

Symptoms include

  • Slow or sudden weight gain
  • Visible blood in the urine or orange urine from diluted blood
  • Lack of appetite
  • Noticeable swelling of the extremities and face
  • Unusually foamy urine
  • The need to make more trips to the bathroom at night

These symptoms can be intermittent and hard to track. Seeing a nephrologists at the first sign of dark urine or nighttime urgency is the best way to catch this form of kidney damage before it impairs your organ function.

Membranous Nephropathy Causes

The cause of membranous nephropathy is thickening in a part of the kidney called the glomerular basement membrane. This prevents the kidney from filtering out waste in the normal manner. The ultimate cause of this thickening is not completely understood, however, there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing membranous nephropathy.

Age is one such factor – although the disease can develop at any age, people over the age of 40 are at the greatest risk.

Membranous nephropathy has been linked to some other diseases. Cancer patients, particularly people with colon cancer and lung cancer, are more likely to develop membranous nephropathy. People suffering from autoimmune disorders are also at higher risk, particularly Graves’ disease and systemic lupus erythematosus. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a risk factor.

Some infections have been associated with membranous nephropathy. These include hepatitis B, endocarditis, malaria and syphilis.

People taking penicillamine and trimethadione have a greater risk of developing membranous nephropathy, as are people who use skin-lightening creams.

Exposure to environmental toxins, particularly gold and mercury, also appears to increase the risk of developing this condition.

How is Membranous Nephropathy Treated?

Treating the symptoms allows patients to maintain their current kidney function without further complicating their health. For example, medications to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control go a long way in keeping membranous nephropathy patients healthy. Diets with controlled levels of sodium and protein reduce the load on the kidneys and maintain a healthier urine balance.

Vitamin D is often supplemented since kidney function loss can reduce the amount of this vitamin available to the body. In cases with severe kidney damage, the only options may be dialysis and eventual organ transplant.

Membranous Nephropathy Prevention

Because membranous nephropathy is more likely to develop in people suffering from certain other diseases and infections, you can reduce your risk through the prompt detection and treatment of these diseases. If you believe you are at risk of developing one of those conditions, speak to your doctor who will be able to arrange the necessary diagnostic tests. If you already suffer from a disease that is a risk factor for membranous nephropathy, ensure that you follow the treatment regimen recommended by your doctor.

Avoiding the chemicals and toxins that scientists have linked to membranous nephropathy will also reduce your risk of developing it. This includes gold, mercury, the medicines penicillamine and trimethadione, and skin lightening products.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
March 07, 2018