Content updated on March 16, 2021 - Medically reviewed by our Medical Advisory Committee

Your kidneys remove waste and fluid from your blood using tiny filters called glomeruli (glow-MER-you-lye). Glomerulonephritis (glow-mer-you-low-nef-RYE-tis), sometimes called glomerular disease, is a type of kidney disease in which the glomeruli are damaged and cannot remove waste and fluid like they should. Glomerulonephritis can begin suddenly or slowly, over time. If it begins suddenly, it is called acute glomerulonephritis. If it comes on slowly, it is called chronic glomerulonephritis. One out of every four people with glomerulonephritis has never had kidney disease.

What are the symptoms of glomerulonephritis?

Symptoms of glomerulonephritis often come on slowly. You might not notice that anything is wrong. Signs of glomerulonephritis are often found at routine wellness visits with your health care provider. Your health care provider might want you to have more tests to check for glomerulonephritis or another kidney disease if your tests show any of the following problems:

Contact your health care provider if you notice any of the following symptoms, as they may be signs of glomerulonephritis or another kidney problem:

  • Pink or brown-colored urine
  • Foamy or bubbly urine
  • Swelling in your face, eyes, ankles, feet, legs or belly area
  • Feeling more tired than normal

If you notice any symptoms or if your tests show that your kidneys might not be working as well as they should, your health care provider might ask you to have one or more of the following tests:

  • Urine test: Your health care provider will take a urine sample to check for blood, protein, white blood cells and red blood cells.
  • Blood test: Your health care provider will take a blood sample to check the levels of waste in your blood.
  • Imaging tests: Your health care provider might want you to have an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan so that he or she can see your kidneys.
  • Kidney biopsy: Your health care provider or a surgeon will use a special needle to take a tiny piece of tissue from inside your kidney. The tissue sample will be looked at under a microscope to check for glomerulonephritis.

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have glomerulonephritis, you will likely need to have a kidney biopsy. A kidney biopsy is almost always needed to figure out if you have glomerulonephritis.

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What causes glomerulonephritis?

It is not always possible to know what causes glomerulonephritis. Many diseases and conditions can lead to damage of the glomeruli, but someone may also have glomerulonephritis without ever having one of these diseases or conditions. Some of the problems that can lead to glomerulonephritis include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Strep throat
  • Regularly taking more than the recommended dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen
  • Bacterial infection of your heart
  • Viral infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Immune diseases, such as lupus, Goodpasture syndrome and IgA nephropathy
  • Vasculitis (a condition that causes irritation to your blood vessels)

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What are the possible complications of glomerulonephritis?

Sometimes glomerulonephritis is temporary, and your kidneys can recover normal function. If it is permanent, and it continues to get worse, it can lead to serious kidney problems, such as acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure  or nephrotic syndrome. Some other possible complications include:

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What is the treatment for glomerulonephritis?

The treatment for glomerulonephritis depends on what is causing it. For example, if high blood pressure caused the damage to your glomeruli, treatment will likely focus on controlling your blood pressure. Certain medicines called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can help control your blood pressure.

Some cases of glomerulonephritis can get better on their own. If you had strep throat that led to glomerulonephritis, your glomeruli might recover on their own after you take an antibiotic to treat the strep infection.

Knowing the cause of the damage to your glomeruli will help your health care provider to decide on the right treatment for you.

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How can I prevent glomerulonephritis?

Preventing glomerulonephritis is not always possible.  You may try to reduce your risk of damage to your glomeruli by controlling your blood pressure and keeping a healthy blood sugar level. Other ways to reduce your chances of getting glomerulonephritis include:

  • Seeing a health care provider as soon as possible if you think you may have strep throat
  • Practice safe sex and avoid drug use
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen

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