Glomerulonephritis - Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Glomerulonephritis - Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Glomerulonephritis, also known as nephritis or nephrotic syndrome, is a disease that affects the kidneys. The upcoming transitions shed light on the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of this disease in great depth.
HealthHearty Staff
Glomerulonephritis (GN) is an ailment in which the tiny filters of the kidneys known as glomeruli, get damaged or inflamed. This results in red blood cells and protein, which normally circulate in the blood, passing into the urine. Glomeruli remove excess fluid, electrolytes, and waste from the bloodstream and pass them into the urine. If this kidney disorder is left untreated or is not responsive to treatment, it could lead to the gradual destruction of glomeruli. This in turn results in kidney failure as they're no longer able to cleanse the blood.

GN can either be acute which means that there is a sudden attack of inflammation, or it could be chronic wherein it occurs gradually. Also, it can either be a disease by itself known as primary GN or part of a systematic disease, like diabetes or lupus.

Functions of the Kidneys

There are three fundamental things that the kidneys do:
  • The wastes in the blood are removed by them and the cleaned blood is returned into the body.
  • They help in regulating the water levels and various minerals required by the body for optimum health.
  • They also produce hormones which help in controlling other functions of the body.
Hence, various other organs in the body are dependent on the kidneys in order to function properly. Each of our kidneys contains around a million tiny nephrons. Each of these nephrons is made up of glomeruli which are attached to tubules. The blood is cleaned by these glomeruli as they filter out waste products, salt, and excess water, while simultaneously preventing red blood cells and proteins from passing into the urine.

Probable Causes of Nephritis

In most of the cases the cause is not known. However, in recent years, many of the causes are becoming known increasingly. For example, it has been known for some time that certain drugs, infections, and sometimes even cancer can result in nephritis. It has also been found that various genetic abnormalities can also be the causative factor. However, in most of the cases, the disease is sporadic which means that it is caused spontaneously and not due to any genetic reasons.

Some evidence suggests that GN could either be caused or made worse due to an impairment of the immune system. This system protects the body against bacteria and viruses. An impaired immune system could attack the glomeruli by mistake, causing them to get inflamed. So, if the immune system does not function properly, it could result in kidney damage.

GN may develop a week or two after recovery from a strep throat infection or skin infection (in rare cases). An overproduction of antibodies stimulated by the infection may eventually settle in the glomeruli which causes inflammation. Symptoms usually include reduced urine output and blood in the urine. Children are more prone to developing post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis when compared to adults and are also more likely to recover quickly.

Certain Symptoms

The symptoms are usually dependent on whether you have chronic or acute GN. The first sign of something being wrong may be reflected in the results of a routine urinalysis. Some early indicants include:
  • Frothy urine due to protein in the urine (a condition known as proteinuria)
  • Brown, rust-colored, or dark urine indicating red blood cells in it
  • Reduced frequency in urination
Indicants of chronic renal failure, which may develop gradually, include:
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General feeling of illness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • General itching sensation
  • Frequent bouts of hiccups
  • Urination urge in the nighttime
  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • A decrease in alertness
  • Lethargy, somnolence, and drowsiness
  • Delirium and confusion
  • Coma
  • Twitching of muscles
  • Muscular cramps
  • Seizures
  • Hyperpigmentation (the skin appears brown or yellow)
  • Reduced sensation in the feet, hands, or other parts
Some other symptoms linked with this condition are:
  • Nosebleed
  • Urinating in excessive amounts
  • Blood in the stools or vomiting
  • High blood pressure
Tests in the laboratory may also show anemia or reduction in kidney functioning along with azotemia (a condition in which nitrogenous wastes, like urea and creatinine accumulate in the blood, and these are usually excreted in the urine). Eventually, symptoms of chronic kidney failure, such as polyneuropathy, edema, and other signs of fluid accumulation including abnormal lung and heart sounds, may manifest themselves.


Tests to make a diagnosis of nephrotic syndrome include:

Urine Test
A urinalysis may show red blood cells and red cell casts in the urine which indicates possible damage to the glomeruli. Results may also show white blood cells, a common indicator of infection or inflammation and increased protein which is indicative of nephron damage.

Blood Tests
These provide information about the kidney damage by measuring the levels of waste products, such as creatinine and blood urea nitrogen.

Imaging Tests
Your doctor may recommend diagnostic studies, such as a kidney X-ray, an ultrasound examination or a computerized tomography (CT) scan that allow visualization of your kidneys.

Kidney Biopsy
This procedure involves using a special needle to extract small pieces of kidney tissues for microscopic examination. It helps in determining the cause of the inflammation. A biopsy is almost always necessary to confirm a diagnosis of nephritis.

Treatment of glomerulonephritis depends on whether you have an acute or chronic form of the disease, the underlying cause, and the severity of your signs and symptoms. Your doctor may suggest certain lifestyle changes, such as restricting salt intake to minimize fluid retention and hypertension, cutting down on protein and potassium consumption to slacken the buildup of wastes, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your blood sugar level if you have diabetes.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.