Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
What is Glomerulonephritis?
Glomerulonephritis , also called GN or nephritis, is a disease of the kidneys in which the glomeruli, the tiny filters in the kidneys that help to clean the blood, become inflamed or damaged. This allows protein and red blood cells to pass into the urine. If glomerulonephritis does not respond to treatment, the glomeruli may slowly be destroyed and the kidneys may lose their ability to clean your blood.
What Do the Kidneys Do?
Healthy kidneys do three essential things. They remove wastes from the blood via the urine and return the cleaned blood back to the body. They regulate the levels of water and different minerals needed by the body for good health. They produce hormones that control other body functions. Many other organs depend on the kidneys in order to work properly.
How Do the Kidney’s Work?
The kidneys are the master chemists of the body. Normally, there are two of them, one on either side of the spine under the lower ribs.

Each kidney consists of about a million tiny units called nephronsi. Each nephron is made up of a very small filter called a glomerulusi which is attached to a tubule. The glomeruli clean the blood by filtering out excess water and waste products. In a normal kidney, the glomeruli allow small-sized waste products to be filtered out of the blood, while at the same time preventing protein and red blood cells from passing into the urine.
What Causes Glomerulonephritis?
Glomerulonephritis has many different causes. These include infection, certain drugs, and in rare cases, even cancer. However, in the great majority of cases, the cause is unknown. Most cases of glomerulonephritis are sporadic. This means the disease arises spontaneously and is not inherited (passed on genetically from parent to child).

There is some evidence that GN may be caused by a problem in the body's immune system. This system protects the body against invasion by foreign materials such as viruses and bacteria. However, if the immune system is not working properly, it may harm the kidneys. The immune system may mistakenly attack the kidneys' filters (glomeruli) and cause them to become inflamed.
Are there Different Types of Glomerulonephritis?
There are many types of glomerulonephritis. These may be grouped as primary and secondary. In primary GN, only the kidneys are affected. In secondary GN, the kidneys are damaged as part of a more generalized disease that can affect other parts of the body.
How Do I Know What Type of GN I have?
The exact diagnosis can be made by a test called a kidney biopsy. This is a medical procedure in which a very tiny tissue sample from one kidney is removed using a special needle. This tissue sample is examined to determine the pattern of kidney damage, and to give more information about the type of GN. A kidney biopsy is not required for every patient so your kidney specialist will decide whether one is needed in your case.
What are the Warning Signs of GN?
Unfortunately, the presence of glomerulonephritis is difficult to detect. In early stages, you may have no symptoms or signs of the disease. A test to measure the protein and red blood cells in your urine will confirm whether or not you have GN.

As the disease progresses, the following symptoms may become evident:
What is the Treatment of GN?
In mild cases, your kidneys may recover on their own, or following specific treatment. Even if the disease is more advanced, it may be slowed by lowering your blood pressure with medication and by making changes in your diet. Your kidney specialist may recommend other specific treatments as well. In rare cases, you may need temporary dialysis treatments (to clean your blood) until your kidneys respond. However, in some cases when the damage is severe, the kidneys become unable to perform their usual functions adequately, and eventually you may need regular dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant.
What Can You do about GN?
You should visit your doctor regularly and follow his or her advice about your kidney disease. This will include taking any necessary medication for the treatment of GN as well as for high blood pressure.

You should also check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications. This is important because many of these, such as pain relief medications, may be harmful to your kidneys.