Glomerulonephritis: Symptoms, causes, scarring, and diagnosis

Glomerulonephritis refers to a range of inflammatory kidney conditions of the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, known as glomeruli.

It can be acute, which means it starts suddenly, or chronic, during which the onset is gradual. Either type can be fatal.

Kidney disease affects 4.9 million people in the United States, or 1.9 percent of the population.

The glomeruli act as tiny filters within the kidneys. Each kidney contains millions of glomeruli.

If the glomeruli become damaged, the kidney can no longer remove waste and excess fluids efficiently. Blood and protein cannot be filtered and are excreted in the urine.

Primary glomerulonephritis refers to the occurrence of glomerulonephritis without an accompanying condition, while secondary glomerulonephritis is caused by another disease, such as diabetes, lupus, infection, or drug use.


Glomerulonephritis covers a range of kidney conditions.

Acute glomerulonephritis may appear suddenly, following a throat or skin infection.

Symptoms include:

puffiness of the face on waking up

urine that is brown or contains traces of blood

decreased urination

fluid in the lungs leading to coughing and shortness of breath

high blood pressure

Chronic glomerulonephritis develops over a long time, often without obvious symptoms. However, complete kidney failure can result.

Individuals with glomerulonephritis might experience:

blood or protein in the urine

high blood pressure

swollen ankles or face, because of water retention

urinating frequently during the night

bubbles or foam in the urine, caused by excess protein

A person with kidney failure may experience poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting. They may feel tired due to disruptions to their sleeping pattern, with muscle cramps occurring during the night. The skin might feel dry and itchy.

Some people with the condition undergo intense pain in the upper back, behind the ribs, as a result of kidney pain.

A healthy adult urinates around 2 to 3 pints daily. People with severe glomerulonephritis may not urinate for 2 or 3 days.


The glomerulus is a tiny, ball-shaped structure, and it is part of the nephron. A nephron consists of one glomerulus and a small fluid-collecting tube, or tubule. Both are key structures in the kidney.

Capillary blood vessels, or glomeruli, make up the glomeruli. These are tiny filters that remove waste from the blood. The waste becomes urine.

Each glomerulus attaches to the opening of a tubule.

Filtered blood returns to the bloodstream. Urine containing the impurities from the blood is excreted to the bladder.

The tubules retain important substances, such as protein.

The urine passes from the kidney to the bladder through a tube called the ureter and then leaves the body through urination.

When these filters become inflamed, the individual has glomerulonephritis.

The damage caused by glomerulonephritis reduces the ability of the kidneys to filter blood properly. Waste collects in the bloodstream, and the kidneys might eventually fail.

The condition also causes a lack of protein in the blood, because it gets expelled from the body in urine, instead of entering the bloodstream.

Tuberculosis is a risk factor for glomerulonephritis.

The cause is often unclear, but there are risk factors that can affect the likelihood of glomerulonephritis.

Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis can result from streptococcal infections of the throat or, in rarer cases, impetigo, a skin infection. Improved treatments for most streptococcal infections mean that this is now less common.

Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB) and syphilis, can lead to glomerulonephritis. This is also true of bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves. Viral infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C also increase the risk.

Acute glomerulonephritis may develop into chronic, or long-term, glomerulonephritis.

Genetic factors can play a role, but people with glomerulonephritis do not normally have a family member who also has the condition.

Long-term use of certain medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can increase the risk.

People with Hodgkin’s, sickle cell disease, and systemic diseases, especially diabetes are at higher risk.

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