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Glomerulonephritis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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The glomerulus is the kidney's filtering unit, and glomerulonephritis is the inflammation of the kidney's filtering units. Read this article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Parry

Published At June 29, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 8, 2023

What Is Glomerulonephritis (GN)?

Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomerulus (units of the kidney). These units filter the blood by removing the waste products and excess fluid in the form of urine from the body. If the kidneys fail to do so, there will be an accumulation of waste products inside the body and a loss of protein and blood in the urine which can further lead to kidney failure. GN is a life-threatening condition and needs immediate attention. Early diagnosis and treatment prevent kidney failure. It can be acute or chronic, depending upon the cause, and is also called nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, or Bright’s disease. GN can be immune-mediated or can be a result of persistent infections. Hematuria and proteinuria can be a result of this. Fatigue and anemic conditions are the results of the loss of red blood cells (RBCs) from blood.

What Causes Glomerulonephritis?

Acute Glomerulonephritis -

  • It is caused by bacterial infections such as Streptococcus species (especially group A, beta-hemolytic) and Staphylococcus aureus.

  • Autoimmune immunological mechanisms trigger inflammation of renal tubules.

  • Acute GN leads to the retention of toxins inside the body, progressing to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Chronic Glomerulonephritis -

The following are the causes of chronic glomerulonephritis:

  • Prolonged acute untreated conditions cause chronic glomerulonephritis.

  • Bacterial infections such as bacterial endocarditis, and strep throat, can cause GN.

  • Viral infections such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis C, or hepatitis B.

  • Hereditary kidney disease.

  • Other diseases like IgA nephropathy, a disorder in which kidney tissues are destroyed by antibodies called IgA.

  • Lupus nephritis (results from lupus autoantibodies affecting the kidney structures).

  • Endocarditis (infection of the valves of the heart).

  • Physical injury to kidneys.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Glomerulonephritis (GN)?

  • Hematuria - Pink or red-colored urine due to red blood cells.

  • Proteinuria - Appearance of foamy urine due to protein inside the blood.

  • Oliguria - Reduced frequency and amount of urine.

  • Edema - Patients also present with face, abdomen, and extremities swelling due to fluid retention.

  • Anemia - Decrease in hemoglobin concentration in the blood due to blood loss or destruction of red blood cells.

  • Epistaxis - Nosebleed can also be a symptom.

  • Hypertension - Elevation in blood pressure than normal.

  • Headache - Headache occurs secondary to hypertension.

  • Dyspnea - Shortness of breath

  • Delirium - Change in the mental state.

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Fatigue.

  • Presence of a rash.

  • High cholesterol.

  • Fever.

  • Blood in the vomit or stools.

  • Damage to other organs.

  • Diarrhea.

What Are the Tests to Confirm Glomerulonephritis?

1. Urine Test:

Urine analysis provides results for the presence of protein and red blood cells, creatinine clearance, urine-specific gravity, total urine protein, and uric acid in the urine.

2. Blood Test:

Blood analysis is used to measure the high level of creatinine, decrease in the number of RBCs, abnormal albumin levels, abnormal blood urea nitrogen, and increased serum electrolytes like potassium in patients with severe renal disease.

3. Imaging Tests:

Computerized Tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to verify the site and extent of damage in the kidneys.

4. Kidney Ultrasound:

To check the size of a kidney or for the presence of any blockages in the kidneys.

5. X-Ray:

To check for the presence of inflammation and hemorrhage.

6. Kidney Biopsy:

A percutaneous spring-loaded semi-automatic biopsy gun can be used for biopsy to remove a piece of renal tissue. Biopsy indicates the proportion of involved glomeruli (diffuse or focal) and the presence of hypercellularity.

How to Treat Glomerulonephritis?

The severity of symptoms depends on if the condition is acute or chronic. Acute conditions can revert to normal sooner than chronic conditions. However, swelling seen on the face and extremities should not be overlooked. For chronic GN, the body needs to reduce the amount of protein, salt, and potassium. Calcium supplements and diuretics are recommended.

Changes to Be Made in the Diet: Dietary changes should include reduced intake of a higher amount of potassium, salt, and fluid. This helps in controlling high blood pressure and regulates the amount of fluid inside the body.

Drugs to Treat Glomerulonephritis:

  • Immunosuppressants: Immunosuppressants work by suppressing the immune system and treating severe types of GN caused by problems with the immune system. Example - Cyclophosphamide, Cyclosporin.

  • Corticosteroids: These drugs works as immunosuppressant drugs. They reduce inflammation.

  • Diuretics: Reduces inflammation or swelling.

  • Drugs to Treat Hypertension: ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers are used.

  • Dialysis: If the inflammation persists and the condition worsens to cause renal failure, it may need dialysis. Dialysis is artificially purifying the blood outside the body using a machine called a dialyzer. In some cases, when the dialysis declines, a kidney transplant from healthy donors might help.

  • Plasmapheresis: Another system to reduce inflammation is plasmapheresis; this process removes the fluid part of the blood and replaces it with intravenous fluid that contains no antibodies.

  • End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) - A medical condition in which the kidneys stop functioning, leading to kidney failure and requiring dialysis or kidney transplant for survival.

  • Chronic Kidney Disease - Chronic systemic diseases causing kidney impairment is called chronic kidney disease.

  • Acute Kidney Injury - Acute kidney injury or acute kidney failure occurs when the kidney injury occurs in a short span, like a few hours or a few days.

  • Chronic Kidney Injury - The gradual loss of kidney function over time is chronic kidney disease.

  • Urinary Tract Infections - Infections in the urinary system like kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra are called urinary tract infections. The symptoms include painful urination and pressure in the lower belly.

  • Pulmonary Edema - Fluid collection in the air sacs of the lungs is called pulmonary edema.

  • Congestive Heart Failure - Heart failure due to fluid overload.

  • Kidney Failure - Kidney failure occurs when the GN condition is left untreated. In kidney failure, one or both the kidneys stop working; if that happens, dialysis is required permanently.

  • Hypertension - Elevated blood pressure.

  • Compromised Immunity - Weakened immunity susceptible to infections.

How to Prevent Glomerulonephritis?

  • Eat healthy and with less sodium.

  • Avoid processed food as they contain a high amount of salt.

  • Practice and maintain good oral hygiene.

  • Visit a physician if you are suffering from strep throat.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Maintain average body weight.

  • Limit intake of potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.


Acute and chronic symptoms of GN can still be regulated if the guidelines are followed strictly. In addition, regular exercise and diet management can prevent the worsening of the condition.

Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to healthy kidneys. Regular body check-ups can help you keep a record of the changes inside the body, which can rule out any damage. In addition, patients suffering from hepatitis B and C, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, or any other immunocompromised condition must make dietary changes and avoid worsening the situation that is already present.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Major Cause of Glomerulonephritis?

Infections like strep throat could be the cause of acute illness. Other conditions like lupus, Wegener's disease, Goodpasture's Syndrome, and polyarteritis nodosa may also be responsible.


What Are the Main Types of Glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis can be either acute or chronic. The acute form appears out of nowhere. It could occur as a result of a skin or throat infection. One might occasionally improve on their own. Other times, if the appropriate treatment is not started right away, your kidneys may stop functioning. The chronic type may grow quietly without any symptoms over a long period of time. It frequently results in renal failure. The illness can occasionally run in families.


What Is the Difference Between Acute Glomerulonephritis and Chronic Glomerulonephritis?

A variety of inflammatory kidney diseases affecting the glomeruli, or small blood arteries in the kidneys, are referred to as glomerulonephritis. It might start quickly and be acute, or it can start gradually and be chronic. Either type is highly dangerous.


Can Glomerulonephritis Be Cured?

The course of treatment is decided by the underlying etiology of kidney filter damage and glomerulonephritis. Treatment might not be necessary for a minor instance. On other occasions, your medical professional might advise:
- Alter your diet to consume less potassium, sodium, and protein.
Prednisone and other corticosteroids.
- Dialysis to lower blood pressure, remove superfluous fluid and clean the blood.
- To minimize edema, diuretics.
If glomerulonephritis is brought on by an immune system issue, immunosuppressants will be advised.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blocker medications to lower blood pressure.
- A unique procedure called plasmapheresis to remove protein from the blood.


What Is a Classic Symptom of Glomerulonephritis?

Urine-containing blood, which can cause it to appear brown, pink, or red, is a classic symptom of glomerulonephritis.


What Is the Most Common Cause of Acute Glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis is seen following a strep infection. A week or two after recovering from a strep throat infection or, less frequently, a skin infection brought on by the streptococcal bacteria, antibodies to the microorganisms accumulate in the glomeruli, causing inflammation.


What Is the Treatment for Glomerulonephritis?

Whether the illness is acute or chronic determines the severity of the symptoms. Compared to chronic illnesses, acute conditions can return to normal sooner. Swelling on the face and extremities should not be disregarded, either. The body must consume less protein, salt, and potassium when one has chronic glomerulonephritis. Diuretics and calcium supplements are advised. Dietary modifications should involve cutting back on sodium and potassium intake while increasing hydration intake. This aids in lowering high blood pressure and controls how much fluid the body contains.


What Happens if You Have Glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis causes swelling and harm to the kidneys' filtering system, which is the glomerulus. It may develop gradually over time or suddenly. The urine is not effectively filtered to remove toxins, metabolic wastes, and excess moisture. Instead, they accumulate in the body, leading to weariness and edema.


Who Is at Risk for Glomerulonephritis?

Individuals with a history of renal illness in the family, existing or previous renal issues, having additional health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes, taking specific medications, and the presence of toxins are at high risk of glomerulonephritis.


What Is the Difference Between Nephrotic Syndrome and Glomerulonephritis?

The degree of proteinuria is the primary distinction between glomerulonephritis and nephrotic syndrome. When glomerulonephritis is present, there is only minor proteinuria with a daily protein loss of less than 3.5 g, in contrast to the large proteinuria present in nephrotic syndrome. Hematuria is the primary symptom of glomerulonephritis, which also includes azotemia, oliguria, and mild to moderate hypertension as other symptoms and indicators. Proteinuria of more than 3.5 grams per day, coupled with additional symptoms and signs such as hypoalbuminemia, edema, hyperlipidemia, and lipiduria, characterize the illness known as nephrotic syndrome.


What Foods Should Be Avoided With Glomerulonephritis?

- Keep an eye on your protein consumption. A gram of protein per kilogram of body weight every day is the recommended intake for those with renal issues.
- Reduce salt intake. Each main meal should not contain more than 400 mg of salt, and snacks should not have more than 150 mg. It is advised that in glomerulonephritis syndrome, a low-sodium diet should be consumed. Too much sodium from salty foods can cause salt and water retention, which can result in edema and raised blood pressure.
- To avoid hyperkalemia, potassium intake should be restricted in patients with acute renal damage.


What Is the Difference Between Acute Glomerulonephritis and Chronic Glomerulonephritis?

A variety of inflammatory kidney diseases affecting the glomeruli, or small blood arteries in the kidneys, are referred to as glomerulonephritis. It might start quickly and be acute, or it can start gradually and be chronic. Either type is highly dangerous.
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Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Parry
Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Parry



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