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What Is Glomerular Disease?

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  • Written By: Amanda Livingstone
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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Glomerular disease refers to a group of disorders that attack the kidney’s blood filtering units, which are called glomeruli. Kidney disorders that involve glomeruli destruction fall into two categories. The first category is called glomerulonephritis and the second is called glomerulosclerosis. Both glomerular disease sub-groups can cause irreversible kidney damage which may lead to end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Medical conditions that cause inflammation of the glomeruli and related kidney structures are referred to as glomerulonephritis or glomerular nephritis. In glomerulonephritis, acute and chronic inflammation damages the glomeruli and important kidney structures. Consequently, the damage to the kidneys will hinder filtration of waste products, allowing toxins to accumulate in the blood. Common symptoms of glomerulonephritis are foamy urine, blood in the urine, and edema, or swelling.

Autoimmune, hereditary conditions and certain infections can cause glomerular diseases to develop, specifically glomerulonephritis. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Goodpasture’s syndrome, and immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy are usually the most common autoimmune conditions that affect the kidneys. In each of the aforementioned autoimmune disorders, the body produces harmful autoantibodies which are deposited in the glomeruli causing inflammation to occur. Ultimately, inflammation of the glomeruli will usually lead to scarring and reduced kidney function.

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Alport syndrome is a hereditary condition that can cause chronic glomerular disease. Generally speaking, men with the syndrome are more likely to experience kidney impairment than women. Unlike Alport syndrome, anyone can develop a bacterial infection that leads to kidney disease. A bacterial infection such as acute post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN) can develop after an episode of strep throat or impetigo. Much like autoimmune disorders, PSGN harms the kidneys by overly stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that ultimately deposit themselves in the glomeruli.

In glomerulosclerosis, the glomeruli and surrounding structures in the kidneys harden and scar. Once scarring has occurred damage to the kidneys is irreversible. Consequently, scarring of the glomeruli causes a disruption in the kidneys’ filtering process. The condition usually progresses until the patient experiences ESRD. Symptoms such as proteinuria, which is excess protein secretion, usually do not present until after the glomerular disease has significantly progressed.

Glomerulosclerosis is usually caused by sclerotic diseases such as diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes is characterized by elevated blood glucose. Over time patients with uncontrolled diabetes will more than likely develop nephropathy of the kidneys. Diabetic induced nephropathy damages the kidneys by scarring and straining the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. The rate of progression in diabetic nephropathy can be minimized by controlling blood glucose levels and lowering blood pressure.

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