Kidney Inflammation: Nephritis

Nephritis, the medical term for inflammation of the kidneys, may be caused by a variety of factors. The condition can affect several of the kidney’s structures, including the glomeruli, tubules, and their surrounding structures (see diagram). Subtypes of nephritis are classified according to the location of inflammation, or by cause. Nephritis is a complex condition that may be caused by infection, toxins, or autoimmune diseases.


Glomerulonephritis is characterized by inflammation of the tiny filters within the kidney. This type of nephritis can be problematic, because the glomeruli serve an important function. Healthy glomeruli are responsible for removing excess fluid and wastes from the bloodstream, where they are then excreted with urine. Sub-classes of glomerulonephritis include primary glomerulonephritis, which occurs on its own, and second glomerulonephritis, which occurs as a result of another disease (like lupus or diabetes). Depending on whether the glomerulonephritis is acute (short-lasting) or chronic (long-lasting), symptoms may vary greatly. Symptoms may include: pink or dark urine from the presence of red blood cells, foamy urine (as a result of excess protein being excreted), hypertension, swelling of the hands, feet or abdomen, and fatigue.

Some cases of glomerulonephritis can cause scarring of the kidneys, which greatly affects proper kidney function. Glomerulonephritis may potentially result in the loss of filtering ability—eventually causing kidney failure. Complications include:

Acute kidney failure: When the kidneys are unable to filter waste products, they can accumulate rapidly. When this occurs, patients are often put on dialysis in order to remove the excess fluids and waste products from the blood.

Chronic kidney failure: Chronic kidney failure is considered a very dangerous condition, characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function. If kidney function drops to below 10% of normal capacity, then a kidney transplant may be necessary.

Nephrotic syndrome: Nephrotic syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that occur along with glomerulonephritis, further affecting the kidneys’ filtration abilities. The high protein levels present in the urine means that there are low protein levels within the blood, causing additional symptoms.

Treatment for nephritis usually addresses treatment for high blood pressure that typically occurs simultaneously with the condition. Treatment of the underlying disease obviously depends on the exact cause, using antibiotics for bacterial causes, and immune suppressants or powerful corticosteroids for the underlying inflammation. Just as with any other disease, there are lifestyle modifications that are necessary for recovery of nephritis (most of which are dietary). Restricting sodium intake will help to minimize fluid retention, while also addressing swelling and hypertension. Patients with kidney dysfunction are also typically placed on a controlled protein and potassium diet, to avoid the build-up of waste products. For diabetic patients with kidney dysfunction, controlling blood sugar is of utmost importance.

As any healthcare professional will tell you, prevention should always be discussed prior to treatment in patients who are at risk for kidney disease, and have yet to develop it. In choosing alternative therapies for prevention or treatment, it’s important to discuss with your doctor before making a decision. Especially with kidney disease, the availability of alternative therapies will greatly vary from patient to patient.


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