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- What is Nephritis?
- Diagnosing Nephritis
- What Causes Nephritis?
- Help for Nephritis
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What is Nephritis?
Nephritis essentially involves the inflammation of the kidneys. It is the responsibility of the kidneys to filter out waste and excess fluid from the body, and when swelling occurs, their ability to filter properly is reduced. When this happens, the body accumulates both excess water and waste in the blood stream, while blood and protein are lost in the urine.
Because nephritis is a general term used to describe any kidney inflammation, the outcome and severity are entirely dependant on the underlying cause. In some cases, nephritis goes unnoticed and may not cause any serious problems. In other cases, nephritis is very serious and may lead to kidney disease such as glomerulonephritis, inflammation such as lupus nephritis, infections such as pyelonephritis, or even kidney failure in severe cases.
Different Types of Nephritis
- Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli (small blood vessels) in the kidneys.
- Interstitial nephritis is an inflammation of the spaces between renal tubules.
- Pyelonephritis is a kidney infection that occurs when bacteria from a urinary tract infection spreads to the kidney.
- Lupus nephritis is an inflammation of the kidney caused by systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is a disease of the immune system.
Who Suffers from Nephritis? Is There a Cure?
Nephritis can affect anyone, although the prognosis is often determined by the cause, the individual’s age, as well as the type and degree of kidney damage. If the cause of the nephritis is treatable, nephritis symptoms usually disappear completely after treatment. However, in some cases, the damage is only partially reversible. In rarer cases where the nephritis is caused by a more serious condition such as HIV infection or lupus nephritis, dialysis may be necessary as the risk of renal failure increases. The most important thing to note is that most cases of nephritis can be treated, and the sooner the underlying cause is discovered, the faster and more effective treatment will be.
The first clues to nephritis may be your symptoms, but this is not always the case. For many people, nephritis is only discovered during a routine urine analysis test.
Doctors may be alerted to the fact that results come back with abnormal levels of blood or protein in the urine. In addition to a full urine analysis, your doctor may advise additional tests.
Tests to Diagnose Nephritis
- Blood tests to determine if there are excessive amounts of creatinine or urea in the blood, and to check for any signs of infection such as pyelonephritis, or signs of inflammation such as glomerulonephritis.
- Imaging tests such as ultrasound or x-rays to visually detect damage to the kidneys.
- Kidney biopsy in which small pieces of kidney tissue are extracted with a special needle for microscopic examination.
Your practitioner will also do a physical examination and ask you detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history. Medical tests for other ailments may also be necessary, asnephritis is often caused by other conditions such as diabetes or a bladder infection.
What are the Nephritis Symptoms?
Up to 50% of people will not develop noticeable nephritis symptoms, although if symptoms do develop (often more common with serious cases) they may include the following:
- Reduced or increased amount of urine produced
- Dark colored urine
- Blood in urine
- Swelling - usually in the face, the eye area, or the legs
- Fatigue and general feelings of malaise
- Increased blood pressure
- Abdominal pain and joint pain may occur in more progressive cases
In some people, symptoms may only become noticeable when nephritis advances to kidney failure.
What Causes Nephritis?
Nephritis is essentially a general term with multiple causes, and in some cases the cause remains unknown.
Various Causes of Nephritis
- Infections such as strep throat, urinary tract infections, HIV, and hepatitis can all lead to nephritis.
- A reaction to certain medications including antibiotics such as penicillin, sulfonamides, cephalosporin, as well as certain diuretic medication
- Effect of certain poisons
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and Goodpasture’s syndrome
- Myeloma (a type of cancer of the white blood cells)
- Vasculitis, in which the blood vessels in the body are affected
- Certain conditions that cause scarring of the kidneys, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- In some instances, nephritis may be part of an inherited condition
When Should I Worry about Nephritis?
If you ever experience symptoms that resemble nephritis, it is essential that you make an appointment with your general health practitioner. Most cases of acute nephritis can be quickly cured when the cause is diagnosed and treated (in some cases, the cure is as simple as stopping a prescription medication that is causing more harm than good). However, nephritis can also be very serious and should never be ignored, as if left untreated it may cause long-term kidney damage, kidney disease, or even renal failure.
Help for Nephritis
Apart from treating the underlying cause, the main aims of treatment are to reduce inflammation, limit the damage to the kidneys, and help support the body until the kidneys return to normal functioning.
Your doctor may suggest that you reduce salt and protein intake, and possibly lessen daily fluid intake. Bed rest may be necessary, and you may be prescribed a number of prescription medications.
Drug Treatments for Nephritis
- Immunosuppressant drugs
- Drugs to control hypertension such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Calcium channel blockers
- Beta blockers
In severe cases, renal dialysis may be necessary to help clean the blood and remove excess waste and fluids from the body. This is usually only a temporary measure until the nephritis has cleared.
More Information on Nephritis
Some Helpful Tips
- Follow any dietary recommendations that your doctor advises. Reducing salt intake is often essential as this will minimize fluid retention, swelling, and high blood pressure. It is also advisable to cut down on protein and potassium in your diet, as this will slow down waste build-up in the blood stream.
- Avoid processed food and anything containing synthetic additives in order to reduce the toxic load on your kidneys. Similarly avoid alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs.
- You may need to restrict fluid intake, as too much fluid build-up can damage your heart, brain, lungs and other organs. Ask your doctor what your daily recommended intake should be.
- It is important to control your weight, blood sugar (if you have diabetes), and blood pressure in order to slow down kidney damage.
- Exercise within your capacity to do so. You may need to cut out strenuous activities or those that increase your blood pressure excessively. Try long walks, pilates, or yoga to keep your energy levels and fitness up, without causing any damage.
- Don’t take any over the counter medication without consulting your doctor first. Many of these medications may not be safe to take with kidney problems.
- If you find yourself facing chronic long-term nephritis or kidney failure, seek emotional support and an outlet for expressing negative feelings. Consider professional counseling or joining a support group so that you are taking care of your emotional and physical well-being.