Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney condition characterized by high levels of protein in your urine and low protein levels in the blood, which causes edema (swelling). It can affect both adults and children.
What causes nephrotic syndrome?
Inside your kidneys are tiny blood vessels called glomeruli which act as filters to remove waste products from your blood and excrete them in your urine. In nephrotic syndrome, these glomeruli sustain damage and leak, allowing large quantities of protein to be lost in the urine. This drops the level of protein in the blood, and because protein acts to prevent water from entering the body’s cells, allows water to transfer into body tissues, which causes edema.
Damage to the glomeruli can occur due to several different conditions, such as:
- Glomerulonephritis: This is thought to be caused by a malfunction of the immune system. There are three main types; the main type in children is minimal change nephropathy
- Congenital nephrotic syndrome
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart failure
- Renal vein thrombosis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
What are the symptoms of nephrotic syndrome?
Initial symptoms usually include:
- Foamy urine
- Severe swelling, particularly in the feet and ankles, but also sometimes around the eyes, hands, and abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain (caused by excess fluid retention).
Complications can occur if the condition progresses and include:
- An increased risk of blood clots
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Kidney failure
- Muscle wasting
- Very low or very high blood pressure
- Weakening of the bones.
How is nephrotic syndrome diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you or your child has nephrotic syndrome, then may refer you to a kidney specialist. Samples of your blood and urine will be taken which will show large amounts of protein in your urine and low amounts in your blood. An ultrasound or kidney biopsy may also be recommended.
How is nephrotic syndrome treated?
Treatment involves treating the underlying condition and medications to prevent the complications of nephrotic syndrome, such as infections and blood clots. Treatments may include:
- Immune-suppressing medications
- Medications to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Dietary changes
- Zinc supplements.