To understand what is involved with glomerulonephritis, you should have a basic understanding of how your kidneys work. In the most simplistic terms, kidneys work as filters for your blood, removing waste and extra fluid which is then passed out of the body as urine. The filters are called nephrons and each of your kidneys has around a million of them. If they become damaged, your kidneys will become less and less functional until they shut down completely, resulting in a life-threatening condition.
Glomerulonephritis is actually the name of a group of diseases which can damage your kidneys and prevent them from operating effectively. These diseases can have a number of causes, like viral infections such as HIV or hepatitis B or C, or even strep throat. Another cause is vasculitis, which creates an inflammation of your blood vessels. Glomerulonephritis may also be the result of immune diseases like lupus or Goodpasture's Syndrome. In a small percentage of cases, the disease is hereditary. High blood pressure and diabetes can also cause damage to your kidneys' filtration system.
Although glomerulonephritis requires a number of steps to diagnose, there are some symptoms you should be aware of. Blood in your urine, turning it pink in color, is one way you can tell that all is not right with your body. Also, if your urine appears foamy, it may indicate an over-abundance of protein, another red flag for kidney problems. Noticeable swelling of your face, hands, and feet can be an indication of serious fluid retention and should be addressed. Fatigue also goes hand-in-hand with kidney problems, so be aware if you find yourself overly-tired all of the time.
If you experience any of the basic symptoms of glomerulonephritis, your doctor can start the diagnostic process with a simple urinalysis which can show the presence and quantity of red and white blood cells. High levels of creatinine and urea will also show up. Blood tests can provide your doctor with more clues about the health of your kidneys. If it is called for, based on the results of X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans, a kidney biopsy may be performed to help find the cause of any inflammation or to verify a diagnosis of glomerulonephritis.
How you are treated for glomerulonephritis will depend on whether you have the acute or chronic form of the disease. It's not unusual for the acute form to go away on its own, but it may require you to undergo dialysis treatments while your body works to repair itself. For the chronic form of the disease, there is no specific course of treatment. The underlying causes of the disease, like lupus or strep can be treated, but the disease itself can only be controlled by cutting back on certain dietary items such as salt, proteins, and potassium. Controlling your blood pressure, and taking calcium supplements and diuretics may also be called for. Long-term, there is the possibility that you will need on-going dialysis or a transplant.
Although glomerulonephritis can be challenging to pronounce or spell, it deserves your respect. Be smart, recognize the early signs, and talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms. Your kidneys will thank you.
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