Glomerulonephritis is an inflammatory disease of the kidneys, or more specifically of the filter cells, also known as glomeruli or renal corpuscles. Glomuerulonephritis usually affects both kidneys. The inflammation can proceed acutely or chronically, and is the most frequent cause of renal insufficiency.
Glomeruli (renal corpuscles) are filter cells which are responsible for “cleaning” the blood and urine in the kidneys. Glomerulonephritis causes non-infectious inflammation of the renal corpuscles. It is normally an autoimmune disease. This means it is a disease in which the immune system turns against its own body cells. No one knowns why the immune system reacts in this way. This form of glomerulonephritis is known as primary nephritis. Post-infectious glomerulonephritis is also one of the primary glomerulonephritides. In this case, a bacterial infection with streptococcal bacteria; for example, after tonsillitis, causes glomerulonephritis. In the case of the rarer form, secondary glomerulonephritis, the cause of the inflammation of the glomeruli is situated outside of the kidneys. Thus, cancers or diseases such as hepatitis or syphilis can cause glomerulonephritis.
Glomerulonephritis usually proceeds chronically and develops slowly over years. The renal function is increasingly impaired as the disease progresses. The patient's general condition also steadily worsens, and fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and discomfort can occur. This finally results in renal insufficiency (kidney failure) with water retention in the body, high blood pressure, headaches, kidney pain and discolouration of the urine as a result of the increased excretion of blood and protein via the kidneys.
The disease is diagnosed on the basis of the patient’s medical history, the symptoms and with the help of urine and blood tests, and a biopsy of the kidneys. The blood test provides information on the extent of the kidney failure. During the kidney biopsy, tissue samples are taken in which the inflammation of the renal corpuscles can be detected.
The treatment of glomuerulonephritis depends on what is causing the inflammation. In the case of secondary glomerulonephritis, the underlying disease is treated outside the kidneys.
In the case of primary glomerulonephritis, anti-inflammatory medication and medication which affects the immune system, i.e. immune suppressants, are administered. The earlier that glomerulonephritis is detected and treated, the better the chances of recovery will be. Despite treatment, glomerulonephritis can sometimes lead to kidney failure, which makes permanent dialysis necessary.