Nephritis refers to inflammation of one or both kidneys. It can be caused by infection, but is most commonly caused by autoimmune disorders that affect the major organs. For example, those with lupus are at a much higher risk for developing nephritis. In rare cases, this condition can be genetically inherited, though it may not present in childhood.
This condition can be very serious, and in some cases, is even deadly. It is associated with a condition called proteinuria, in which kidneys excrete protein from the body into the urine. When this happens, several serious side effects can occur, including blood clots which can lead to a stroke.
Nephritis causes additional problems like water retention, as the kidneys cannot function properly to rid the body of water. Water retention or edema, can further cause swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and hands. This secondary symptom is usually treated with diuretics like Lasix®, generic name furosemide, which can help to reduce edema and pain associated with swelling.
Primarily, nephritis tends to be treated with antibiotics and also occasionally with steroids, particularly in those cases thought to be caused by lupus. This condition is incurable when associated with lupus, but it can go into remission. Roughly half the cases associated with lupus, and with the inherited form, go into remission.
When nephritis is caused by infection, it is treated aggressively with antibiotics. Antibiotic treatment may have to be intravenous for several weeks if the infection has been present for a long time, and if the infection is particularly severe. This tends to mean hospitalization.
Nephritis is diagnosed by evaluating a patient’s history and possible genetic precursors for the condition. When these do not exist, recent history of strep throat or bladder infection can indicate infectious nephritis. Those who have lupus are usually told they are predisposed to this condition and are urged to report signs of swelling in the extremities to their doctors as soon as possible. Additionally pain in the kidneys, on either side of the lower back, may indicate development of nephritis.
Physicians may also order lab tests, since urine analysis can be a significant help in diagnosing excess protein in the urine stream, as well as the presence of infection. Blood tests may also help diagnose this condition. Physical exam can reveal kidneys that are swollen, and in some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to evaluate amount of swelling.
Infectious nephritis is easier to prevent if a patient with strep throat or bladder infection is diagnosed early and adheres to taking the appropriate antibiotics. One can reduce contracting it from urinary tract or bladder infections with a few simple behavioral changes. These include maintaining good hygiene when using the bathroom, like wiping front to back, drinking plenty of fluids, and urinating every couple of hours to clear the bladder.
Genetic and lupus induced nephritis are not preventable. However, those with lupus are more predisposed to develop the infectious type as well, and can observe the above precautions to help reduce risk.