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Acute nephritic syndrome

Definition

Acute nephritic syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur with some disorders that cause glomerulonephritis, or swelling and inflammation of the glomeruli in the kidney.

Alternative Names

Glomerulonephritis - acute; Acute glomerulonephritis; Nephritis syndrome - acute

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Acute nephritic syndrome is often caused by an immune response triggered by an infection or other disease.

Common causes in children and adolescents include:

Common causes in adults include:

The inflammation affects the function of the glomerulus -- the part of the kidney that filters blood to make urine and remove waste. As a result, blood and protein appear in the urine, and excess fluid builds up in the body.

Swelling of the body occurs when the blood loses a protein called albumin. (Albumin keeps fluid in the blood vessels. When it is lost, fluid collects in the body tissues). Blood loss from the damaged kidney structures leads to blood in the urine.

Acute nephritic syndrome may be related to:

Symptoms

Common symptoms of nephritic syndrome are:

  • Blood in the urine (urine appears dark, tea-colored, or cloudy)
  • Decreased urine output (little or no urine may be produced)
  • Swelling of the face, eye socket, legs, arms, hands, feet, abdomen, or other areas

Other symptoms that may occur include:

Patients may develop symptoms of acute kidney failure or chronic kidney disease.

Signs and tests

During an examination, your health care provider may find the following signs:

  • Abnormal heart and lung sounds
  • Enlarged liver
  • Enlarged neck veins from increased pressure
  • General swelling
  • High blood pressure
  • Signs of acute kidney failure
  • Signs of fluid overload (in the abdomen)

Tests that may be done include:

A kidney biopsy will show inflammation of the glomeruli, which may indicate the cause of the condition.

Tests to find the cause of acute nephritic syndrome may include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation in the kidney and control high blood pressure. You may need to stay in a hospital to be diagnosed and treated. Treatment may include antibiotics or other medications or therapies.

Your doctor may recommend bedrest. You may need to limit salt, fluids, and potassium in your diet. Your health care provider may prescribe medications to control high blood pressure. Corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory medications may be used to reduce inflammation.

You may also need other treatments for acute kidney failure.

Support Groups

For information and support, see kidney disease support groups.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook depends on the disease that is causing the nephritis. When the condition improves, symptoms of fluid retention (such as swelling and cough) and high blood pressure may go away in 1 or 2 weeks. However, urine tests may take months to return to normal.

Children tend to do better than adults and usually recover completely. Only rarely do they develop complications or progress to chronic glomerulonephritis and chronic kidney disease.

Adults do not recover as well or as quickly as children. Although it is unusual for the disease to return, at least one-third of adults whose disease does return will develop end-stage kidney disease and may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of acute nephritic syndrome.

Prevention

Many times the disorder cannot be prevented, although treatment of illness and infection may help to reduce the risk.

References

Appel GB. Glomerular disorders and nephrotic syndromes. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 122.

Nachman PH, Jennette JC, Falk RJ. Primary glomerular disease. In: Brenner BM, ed. Brenner & Rector's The Kidney. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 30.


Review Date: 9/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Herbert Y. Lin, MD, PhD, Nephrologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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