Illustration of the anatomy of the kidney

What is glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis is a type of glomerular kidney disease in which the kidneys' filters (glomeruli composed of tiny blood vessels) become inflamed and scarred, and slowly lose their ability to remove wastes and excess fluid from the blood to make urine. Types of glomerulonephritis include kidney disease of diabetes, IgA nephropathy, and lupus nephritis.

What are the symptoms of glomerulonephritis?

The kidneys can be severely damaged before any symptoms appear. The following are the most common symptoms of glomerulonephritis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue

  • High blood pressure

  • Noticeable swelling of the face, hands, feet, and abdomen

  • Blood and protein in the urine

  • Decreased urine output

The symptoms of glomerulonephritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is glomerulonephritis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for glomerulonephritis may include the following:

  • Urinalysis. Laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein, to determine levels of protein and red blood cells in the urine.

  • Blood tests. Tests to measure the levels of waste products to determine how well the kidneys are filtering.

  • Ultrasound of the kidney. A diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs, to determine whether the shape or size of the kidney is abnormal. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

  • Kidney biopsy. A procedure in which tissue samples are removed with a needle or during surgery from the kidney for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

What is the treatment for glomerulonephritis?

Specific treatment for glomerulonephritis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Unfortunately, even with today's medicine, kidney disease cannot be cured. Therefore, treatments focus on slowing the progression of the disease and preventing complications. Treatment may include:

  • Drug therapy, such as ACE (angiotensin-converting enzymes) inhibitors

  • Diet modification. This includes limiting protein to reduce the buildup of wastes in the blood, sodium, and potassium

  • Dialysis. A medical treatment to remove wastes and additional fluid from the blood after the kidneys have stopped functioning.

  • Kidney transplantation. A procedure that places a healthy kidney from one person into a recipient's body.