Content updated on September 2, 2021 - Medically reviewed by our Medical Advisory Committee

IgA nephropathy (nuh-FROP-uh-thee), also known as Berger’s disease, is a disease that causes damage to the tiny filters inside the kidneys.

Proteins have many different jobs in your body. IgA is a protein that helps you fight infections. In people with IgA nephropathy, these proteins build up and form clumps inside the kidneys’ tiny filters (glomeruli). These clumps of proteins damage the glomeruli. This damage can cause chronic kidney disease and can lead to kidney failure/ESRD.

What are the symptoms of IgA nephropathy?

In the early stages of IgA nephropathy, you may not notice any symptoms. You can have the disease for years, or even decades, without knowing it. The first sign of IgA nephropathy can appear when you have a cold, sore throat or other infection. When this happens, you may notice your urine is pink or brown, which is a sign that you have blood in your urine. Some people also have protein in their urine. If you have protein in your urine, you might notice that your urine looks foamy or bubbly and that your hands and feet are swollen.

Your health care provider might notice a problem before you do. A routine urine test at a regular check-up can show signs of IgA nephropathy. If you have tiny amounts of blood in your urine, you may not be able to see it, but it will show up in a urine test. If you have IgA nephropathy, the tiny clumps of blood in your urine will be shaped like tubes, because they form inside the kidneys’ tube-like filters called glomeruli.

If your urine test shows a problem or if you notice signs of blood or protein in your urine, your health care provider may want you to have blood tests to check your kidney health.

If both your blood and urine tests show signs that your kidneys are damaged, your health care provider might want you to have a kidney biopsy. A kidney biopsy is a test to look at a tiny piece of your kidney under a powerful microscope. During the biopsy, a needle is inserted into your kidney to collect a very small sample of your kidney tissue. A doctor will look at the sample using a microscope to check for IgA nephropathy. Only a kidney biopsy can tell your doctor if you have IgA nephropathy.

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Who gets IgA nephropathy?

IgA nephropathy is one of the most common kidney diseases. While people of any age, gender or ethnicity can have it, the disease is more common in men than in women. It is also more common in whites and Asians than it is among other races and ethnicities.

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What causes IgA nephropathy?

Doctors and scientists do not know what causes IgA nephropathy. Although it sometimes happens after you have a cold or a similar infection, it can also happen if you have not had any infection.

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What are the complications of IgA nephropathy?

About 1 in every 4 adults with IgA nephropathy eventually gets kidney failure/ESRD. One in every 10 to 20 children will get kidney failure/ESRD because of IgA nephropathy. More common complications of IgA nephropathy include high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Having too much cholesterol in your blood raises your chances of having heart problems.

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What is the treatment for IgA nephropathy?

There is no cure for IgA nephropathy, but treatments can help to prevent more damage to your kidneys. If you have IgA nephropathy, you should have regular tests for kidney health. Your health care provider might tell you to take a type of medicine called an ACE inhibitor or ARB to control your blood pressure and prevent protein from being lost in your urine. You might also need to change your diet and take medicine to lower your cholesterol. Your health care provider can refer you to a dietitian who can help you plan a diet that will work for you to help you lower your cholesterol.

In some cases, a medicine called an immune suppressant might be recommended. This is a type of medicine that weakens your immune system. Prednisone is an example of an immune suppressant that has been used to treat IgA nephropathy.

Work with your health care provider to choose a treatment that is right for you.

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