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Glomerulonephritis is damage to the glomeruli. Glomeruli are the tiny structures within the kidney that filter blood.

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs located in the back just below the rib cage. Each kidney is about the size of a fist. The two kidneys filter blood, catch needed substances and return them to the circulation, and dispose of wastes in the urine. If the kidneys don’t filter properly, wastes build up in the blood.

There are two types of glomerulonephritis:

  • Acute glomerulonephritis begins suddenly.
  • Chronic glomerulonephritis develops gradually over several years.

In some cases, glomerulonephritis leads to kidney failure. Kidney failure is a severe kidney disease that must be treated with dialysis or kidney transplant.

Anatomy of the Kidney
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Causes of glomerulonephritis include:

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of glomerulonephritis include:

  • Family history of glomerulonephritis
  • The presence of a known cause of glomerulonephritis
  • Exposure to a cause
  • High blood pressure


Glomerulonephritis sometimes causes no symptoms and is discovered during a routine urine test. When present, the symptoms of acute and chronic glomerulonephritis differ from one another.

The symptoms of acute glomerulonephritis may include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Foamy appearance of urine
  • Less frequent urination
  • Swelling in the morning, especially in the face, feet, hands, and abdomen

Chronic glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney failure. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Muscle cramps at night
  • Swelling of the face, feet, hands, or abdomen


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a nephrologist who specializes in kidney disease for further diagnostic testing and treatment.

Tests may include

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Kidney biopsy

Imaging tests evalate the kidneys and surrounding structures. This can be done with:


Treatment will depend on the cause of glomerulonephritis. The following steps may be taken to help kidney function or reduce further damage:


Glomerulonephritis can be treated with:

  • Diuretics to reduce fluid retention
  • Corticosteroids to suppress the immune system
  • ACE inhibitors to control blood pressure and protein excretion

Lifestyle Changes

  • Restrict salt and water intake.
  • Restrict intake of potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium.
  • Cut down on protein in the diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
  • Take calcium supplements.

Dialysis and Transplant

If the kidneys are unable to remove sufficient waste from the blood, dialysis may be required. Temporary dialysis may be sufficient for acute glomerulonephritis. If it leads to permanent kidney failure, chronic glomerulonephritis will require long-term dialysis or kidney transplant.


To help reduce your chance of glomerulonephritis:

  • Follow treatment plans for chronic disorders, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Seek prompt treatment for a sore throat.
  • Practice safe sex and avoid drug use to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Revision Information

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  • National Kidney Foundation

  • Health Canada

  • Kidney Foundation of Canada

  • Glomerulonephritis (list of topics). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 1, 2010. Accessed July 12, 2013.

  • Glomerulonephritis. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 12, 2013.