Glomerulonephritis: Symptoms and Treatments

Healthy kidneys work to remove waste and toxins from your blood. If your kidneys become damaged, it may mean you have glomerulonephritis, which can affect your overall health and how you feel. Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for glomerulonephritis so you can take control of your kidney health and feel your best.

What Is Glomerulonephritis?

The glomerulus is the basic filtering unit of the kidney. The glomerulus contains several tiny filters known as glomeruli. Glomerulonephritis occurs when the glomeruli become scarred, damaged, and inflamed and can no longer filter your blood effectively. Glomerulonephritis may present itself suddenly or slowly over time.


  • Acute glomerulonephritis: happens suddenly, often after a skin or throat infection
  • Chronic glomerulonephritis: develops slowly over time, often without symptoms1

Causes of Glomerulonephritis

The causes of glomerulonephritis are sometimes unknown and can vary from person to person. Whether you have chronic or acute glomerulonephritis also plays a role in its possible causes. Since acute glomerulonephritis comes on suddenly, its cause is often associated with an infection. The causes of chronic glomerulonephritis may be linked to family history or underlying health conditions. Talk to your doctor to determine if you are at risk for glomerulonephritis and how to reduce any potential risk factors.

Common causes of chronic glomerulonephritis include:

Potential causes of acute glomerulonephritis include:

  • Strep throat
  • Lupus
  • Viral infections such as hepatitis B and C2

Symptoms of Glomerulonephritis

Although your kidneys may become damaged before any warning signs appear,3 it is still important to be aware of potential symptoms so you can take action to protect your kidney health as soon as possible. If you have any conditions that may cause glomerulonephritis, or a family history of any symptoms, it’s recommended that you get screened regularly.


Keep an eye out for the following symptoms of glomerulonephritis:

  • Swelling in your hands, face, feet, and stomach
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Blood in your urine
  • Less frequent urination
  • Bubbly or foamy urine
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure

If you’re experiencing 2 or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can help you determine the root cause and what actions to take.

How Is Glomerulonephritis Diagnosed?

There are a few ways your doctor can check if you have glomerulonephritis. If a physical exam and review of your medical history don’t provide a conclusive answer, your doctor may run the following kidney function tests

  • Urinalysis—checks for high protein (proteinuria), infection, and red and white blood cells3
  • Blood test—determines how well your kidneys are filtering your blood; your doctor may check your blood for excess waste3
  • Kidney ultrasound—takes images of your kidneys to check for any abnormalities3
  • Kidney biopsy—small samples of your kidney are removed and examined3

Glomerulonephritis can also progress to chronic kidney disease (CKD) so it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine if you have or are at risk for CKD. The sooner you determine if you have glomerulonephritis, the sooner you can begin working on a care plan to protect your kidney health.4

Treatment of Glomerulonephritis

Although acute glomerulonephritis can sometimes go away with treatment, there is no cure for chronic glomerulonephritis. Fortunately, there are ways to manage the progression of CKD and protect your kidney function. Your doctor will help you develop a care plan that is best for you based on your age, overall health, medical history, and other factors specific to you.

Below are a few tips to help you manage glomerulonephritis and your overall health:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—and less protein, salt, and potassium—will help you feel your best.
  • Control your blood pressure. Glomerulonephritis usually causes high blood pressure, which can lead to further kidney damage. Work with your doctor to monitor and control your blood pressure.
  • Lower your cholesterol. High cholesterol is common among people with glomerulonephritis.2 Taking steps to reduce your cholesterol, through diet and potentially medication, can help avoid other complications such as heart and vascular disease.
  • Get vaccinated. People with glomerulonephritis are more vulnerable to infections. To protect your health, consider getting vaccinations for conditions including COVID-19, flu, and pneumonia.

Take Control of Your Kidney Health

As mentioned above, glomerulonephritis could progress to CKD, so it’s important to take steps to manage this condition and preserve your kidney health. It’s also never too soon to talk to your doctor. If you are experiencing any symptoms of glomerulonephritis, talk to your doctor about getting tested. If you’ve already been diagnosed with chronic glomerulonephritis, take steps to manage its progression and learn how to protect your kidney health.

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References

1 "What Is Glomerulonephritis?". 2015. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/glomerul.

2 "Glomerulonephritis - Treatment". 2019. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/glomerulonephritis/treatment/.

3 "Glomerulonephritis". 2021. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/glomerulonephritis."Glomerulonephritis - Symptoms And Causes". 2021. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glomerulonephritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355705.

"Glomerulonephritis - Symptoms And Causes". 2021. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glomerulonephritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355705.


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