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Kidney Model

What is glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis is the term used to describe a group of diseases that inflame or injure the glomeruli, which are a network of small blood vessels in the kidney that filter blood.

Glomerulonephritis may also be called nephritis or nephrotic syndrome.

What causes glomerulonephritis?

Our kidneys are small, bean-shaped organs that filter waste and excess fluids from our blood. They are made up of about one million filtering units, called nephrons, and each one of these has a glomerulus.

Each glomerulus allows blood and protein to stay in the body while allowing fluid and waste to pass through it into the urinary tract, similar to how we use a strainer in cooking.

Many conditions that affect kidney function affect the glomeruli. Causes of glomerulonephritis include:

  • Diabetic kidney disease
  • Infection, such as a Strep throat or bacterial endocarditis
  • IgA nephropathy
  • Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis
  • Goodpasture’s syndrome
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  • Hereditary reasons, such as Alport syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Lupus
  • Polyarteritis nodosa
  • Viral infection, such as HIV, or hepatitis B or C
  • Wegener’s disease.

Sometimes no cause for glomerulonephritis is found.

What are the symptoms of glomerulonephritis?

Symptoms may vary depending on the cause but may include:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria) which makes the urine look pink or light brown (like cola)
  • Protein in the urine (proteinuria) which may cause the urine to become foamy
  • Edema (fluid build-up in areas such as the feet, legs, hands, face or around the eyes)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol.

How is glomerulonephritis diagnosed?

If you have any symptoms of glomerulonephritis, see your doctor. Your doctor will ask about your history and perform a physical examination. They will test your urine to see if there is blood or protein present.

Imaging tests may also be conducted and in some cases, a biopsy of your kidney may be taken, which is when a sample of your kidney is taken using a needle and looked at under a microscope.

How is glomerulonephritis treated?

Left untreated, glomerulonephritis may cause waste to build up in your blood and cause chronic kidney disease. Treatment aims to treat symptoms and slow down the damage to your kidneys and may include:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • Diuretics
  • Dietary changes
  • Corticosteroids
  • Dialysis
  • Surgery (eg, a kidney transplant).