Glomerulonephritis – a quick guide

Written by: Professor Jeremy Levy
Published: | Updated: 03/12/2018
Edited by: Cal Murphy

There are a wide variety of diseases which can cause damage in the kidney, often by causing inflammation, and which may be limited just to the kidneys or involve the whole body. These are called glomerulonephritis, and there are many types. Expert nephrologist Professor Jeremy Levy is here to give us the facts:

Symptoms of glomerulonephritis


The different varieties of glomerulonephritis almost always cause the kidneys to leak blood or protein into the urine, which is detected by a urine test. This is often the first or only sign, and is not usually visible. Many patients have no symptoms at all initially. When symptoms do occur they can include classic symptoms of nephropathy:

  • Swelling of the legs (oedema)
  • Shortness of breath (sometimes)
  • Abdominal pain

If affecting more than the kidneys, the following symptoms can also manifest:

  • Joint pains
  • Rashes
  • Red eyes
  • Facial pain or sinus disease
  • Coughing blood (uncommon)


Nephrotic syndrome


In severe cases of glomerulonephritis, large amounts of protein can leak from the kidneys into the urine. This can cause oedema (swelling) in the legs and other parts of the body, and is known as nephrotic syndrome.

Diagnosing glomerulonephritis


To make a diagnosis requires blood and urine tests, an ultrasound scan, and sometimes a kidney biopsy (a small sample is taken out from one kidney through a needle under local anaesthetic).


Treating the problem


Depending on the type of glomerulonephritis, treatment is almost always needed in the form of medications, ranging from simple blood pressure treatments (as with several kidney disease treatments, such as for PKD) to stronger drugs which suppress the body's immune system. Treatment might be needed for many months or years, or even life long, depending on the precise disease. These treatments require close monitoring.

A healthy diet is important, as is exercise. Most of these diseases can be very effectively treated if caught early and the right treatment is chosen. Without treatment patients can end up with kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

If you are experiencing symptoms of glomerulonephritis, consult your doctor or a specialist.

By Professor Jeremy Levy

Professor Jeremy Levy is a top consultant nephrologist based in London, who specialises in chronic kidney disease, glomerulonephritis and immune-mediated renal disease, including vasculitis. He is actively involved in teaching and research, writing textbooks on dialysis and nephrology, including the Oxford Handbook of Dialysis, and developing online learning for undergraduates at Imperial College, and is invited to teach widely around the world. He serves as Director of Clinical Academic Training for Imperial College London and was Chair of the UK Renal Association Education and Training Committee. Professor Levy trained in London, Oxford and Cambridge, and holds a PhD in renal immunology.

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