The kidneys are fist-sized organs in the back that are shaped like kidney beans.
They filter blood and help remove waste products from the body. Tiny filtering units
within the kidneys do this with the help of blood vessels called glomeruli.
If the glomeruli get inflamed (swollen and irritated), it's called glomerulonephritis(gluh-MARE-you-low-ne-FRY-tis). Glomerulonephritis causes the kidneys
to stop working properly. This can lead to swelling (from too much fluid in the
body) in places like the face, feet, ankles, or legs. Glomerulonephritis also can cause kidney failure and kidney disease, but that's
Glomerulonephritis can be acute (meaning
it comes on suddenly) or chronic (developing over several months
or years). Often, people don't know they have glomerulonephritis until a routine urine test finds it. How it's treated depends on which type a person has.
Most of the time, glomerulonephritis gets better
on its own — and, if it doesn't, there's a lot that doctors can do to prevent further damage.
How the Kidneys Work
One of the main jobs of the kidneys is to filter the waste out of the blood. The body doesn't use everything that we eat and drink, so some of it ends up in our blood as waste, along with
other waste products that our bodies make naturally. The kidneys filter blood and
remove these waste products and excess fluid, which then leave the body as urine (pee).
The blood filtering happens in tiny structures called nephrons.
Each kidney has about a million nephrons. Each nephron has a glomerulus (the singular
of glomeruli). The glomerulus, which is a ball of tiny blood vessels, is where the
process of removing waste products and fluids from the blood begins. If the glomeruli
aren't doing their job properly, it can lead to health problems.
While acute glomerulonephritis has known causes, sometimes doctors don't know why
people get chronic glomerulonephritis. In rare cases, children can inherit glomerulonephritis
from their parents; this is called Alport syndrome.
With acute glomerulonephritis, symptoms come on suddenly, possibly after a skin
infection or a case of strep throat. Chronic glomerulonephritis can take several months
or years to develop and is found through a urine test.
If the condition isn't caught early and treated, there's
a chance of kidney damage or failure. Symptoms of kidney failure include:
peeing more often
reduced amounts of urine
lack of appetite
nausea and vomiting
muscle cramps at night
high blood pressure
fluid buildup in the tissues
Someone who has these symptoms might not have
kidney failure — many other things can cause them. But if your child
has any of these problems, it's important to see a doctor right away to find the cause.
At the doctor's office, explain your child's symptoms. The doctor will examine
your child and may draw
a little blood and get a urine sample for testing. The doctor also might order
a kidney ultrasound
to get a better look at the kidneys. Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images
of organs and other body parts.
In some cases, a biopsy
may be done. During this procedure, a tiny sample of kidney tissue is removed and
sent to a lab for testing to help find the cause of the glomerulonephritis and check
for any kidney damage.
Sometimes, acute glomerulonephritis gets better
on its own. When treatment is needed, it's best to start as soon as possible. That
way there's less chance of damage to the kidneys.
How doctors treat acute glomerulonephritis in
kids depends on what's causing it, what tests (like a kidney biopsy) show, how severe
any kidney damage is (based on the biopsy results), what the symptoms are, and a
child's age and general health.
Treatment may include:
fluid restriction (limiting the amount of fluid a child drinks per day)
a diet low in protein, salt, and potassium
diuretics (medicines that increase urine production)
medicines to lower blood pressure (if high blood pressure is a problem)
antibiotics (if a bacterial infection is causing glomerulonephritis)
steroids and other drugs that suppress the immune system (if an immune system
problem is causing it)
in severe cases, kidney dialysis (a procedure that cleans the blood and removes
fluids from the body)
In most cases of acute glomerulonephritis, the
damage to the glomeruli will eventually heal. How long this takes depends on what
caused the condition, how long it lasted, and when treatment began.
When someone doesn't respond to treatment, glomerulonephritis
can become chronic.
Chronic glomerulonephritis means one of two things:
Someone has had glomerulonephritis for many months or
even years — the person may not have had any signs of a problem until the kidney
was so injured that damage couldn't be reversed.
Acute glomerulonephritis has become chronic because it
didn't respond to treatment.
There's no specific way to treat chronic glomerulonephritis,
so a doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to minimize further damage or slow down
progression of the kidney disease.
Lifestyle changes that can help kids with chronic
eating a healthy diet while limiting protein, potassium, phosphorus, and
getting plenty of exercise (at least 1 hour a day for kids over age 2)
drinking less fluids
taking calcium supplements
taking certain medicines
In rare cases, glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney failure that requires dialysis
or a kidney
transplant. Fortunately, most kids will never need those procedures and will be
able to play sports, participate in favorite activities, and lead perfectly normal