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What is IgA Nephrology?

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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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IgA nephrology is actually a common misspelling for the name of the kidney disease IgA nephropathy. Nephrology is a term used to describe the area of medicine concerned with the kidneys, while nephropathy refers to disease affecting the kidneys. As the term IgA nephropathy resembles IgA nephrology quite closely, it is not unknown for people who are actually looking for information on IgA nephropathy to accidentally type phrases such as IgA nephrology treatment and IgA nephrology disease into search engines. IgA nephropathy is also known as synpharyngitic glomerulonephritis, or Berger's disease. The condition involves a substance known as immunoglobulin A, or IgA, accumulating inside parts of the kidney known as glomeruli, a process which can lead to progressive damage and eventual kidney failure.

Glomeruli are minute knots of blood vessels which filter blood during the process of urine formation. IgA nephropathy develops when IgA binds to the mesangial cells which support and surround the glomeruli. In around one third of cases, IgA goes on to trigger a reaction which results in inflammation and scarring of the glomeruli, and progressive kidney damage. Medical treatment can delay progression, but some people will eventually require a kidney transplant.

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The symptoms of IgA nephropathy can vary, and some people will not have any noticeable signs of the condition, but microscopic amounts of blood may be present in the urine. This blood may be discovered by chance during a routine urine test. In other cases, blood is easily visible in the urine and typically appears at the same time as a respiratory infection.

Forming part of the immune system, IgA is what is known as an antibody, which normally helps the body fight disease. It is not known why IgA sometimes builds up in the kidneys, or why it causes kidney damage. Diagnosis of IgA nephropathy can be made by measuring levels of IgA in the blood. A sample of kidney tissue may then be taken and examined under a microscope to determine whether IgA is present. Inspection of the sample can also show whether IgA has caused any inflammation of kidney tissue and, if so, to what extent.

IgA nephropathy treatment aims to delay the progression of IgA nephritis and prevent possible complications, such as raised blood pressure. High blood pressure may itself lead to further kidney damage, and it also carries an increased risk of stroke or heart attack. Medication can be used to control blood pressure and maintain it within normal limits.

The outlook for someone with IgA nephropathy may be estimated at the time of diagnosis, and around two thirds of people are unlikely to suffer progressive kidney damage. For those who do experience such damage, the course of IgA nephropathy is slow, and it may progress over as long as two or three decades before the kidneys fail. Kidney dialysis and a kidney transplant may then be required.

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