What is Nephropathy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Nephropathy is a medical term used to refer to disease or damage in the kidneys. A number of types of nephropathies can be seen in medical treatment, and there are a range of causes and treatments for conditions which involve the kidneys. Untreated, nephropathy can become extremely serious, because functioning kidneys are critical to overall health.

A diagram of a kidney.
A diagram of a kidney.

The kidneys act as one of the filtration systems in the body, expressing undesirable substances and retaining useful ones in addition to maintaining normal blood pressure levels. They also produce urine, a fluid which is used to express substances which are not needed by the body. When the kidneys are damaged, the lack of filtration can make people extremely sick. People may develop nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys, and this can progress to a full-blown nephropathy.

Dialysis may be used as a treatment for nephropathy.
Dialysis may be used as a treatment for nephropathy.

In some cases, a nephropathy is congenital, caused by a genetic problem which interferes with kidney function. Many congenital forms of nephropathy involve enzyme deficiencies which make it difficult for the body to process certain compounds. People can also acquire disease or damage through the use of certain drugs or lead exposure. Nephropathy is a very common complication of diabetes, resulting from damage to the kidneys caused by high blood sugar, and people with high blood pressure can also develop nephropathy.

Someone with a kidney problem may experience bloody urine, among many other issues.
Someone with a kidney problem may experience bloody urine, among many other issues.

One common form of nephropathy is Berger's disease, also known as IgA nephropathy, in which an antibody known as IgA builds up in the kidneys, impairing kidney function and causing an inflammation of some of the structures inside the kidneys. Conditions which involve the kidneys can be diagnosed through samples of blood and urine, along with biopsies, ultrasounds, and other studies which are designed to open a window into the functions of the body.

Nephritis can be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.
Nephritis can be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.

Treatments focus on determining the cause of the nephropathy and treating it. If the kidneys are overloaded with something the body cannot process, dialysis may be used to replace the filtration normally performed by the kidneys. In extreme cases, kidney transplant is a treatment option for people with kidneys which are so damaged that independent recovery is unlikely.

Nephropathy is a term that can be used to describe disease or damage in the kidneys.
Nephropathy is a term that can be used to describe disease or damage in the kidneys.

Someone with a kidney problem can develop difficulty urinating, along with urinary incontinence, bloody urine, edema, changes in blood pressure, nausea, weakness, fatigue, and protein in the urine. It is important to seek treatment for symptoms, especially for people at risk of developing kidney disease, because the earlier medical intervention takes place, the better the prognosis.

Kidneys play a crucial role in the urinary system and in maintaining electrolyte balance and blood pressure.
Kidneys play a crucial role in the urinary system and in maintaining electrolyte balance and blood pressure.
Problems with the kidney may cause high blood pressure.
Problems with the kidney may cause high blood pressure.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My uncle had a lot of classic nephropathy symptoms of fatigue and frequency of urination. He put off going to doctor for a long time.

Once he was seen, his kidney function was down to 15%. Shortly after that he was started on dialysis for his nephropathy treatment.

Even though he finds things to study and read while he went through the dialysis treatment, it really changed his lifestyle.

After several months of going for treatment three times a week, he now has his dialysis at night. This is something he has to do every night, but now he doesn't lose time out of his daily routine.

He had to attend a class to learn everything that was needed. He doesn't travel nearly as often as he used to because it is quite a chore to get everything hooked up.

Having the treatments at night has been a good solution for him and he knows he will have to do this for the rest of his life.


My sister developed nephropathy due to a strong medication she was taking for a mental condition.

She didn't have any of the usual nephropathy symptoms as this happened over the course of just a couple months.

They immediately stopped this medication and also started her on something to improve her kidney function.

She lives close to a Mayo clinic, and they told her if kidney function does not improve, she will have to undergo a kidney transplant.

They said they would not even have her go through dialysis, but just go ahead and do the transplant. They do a lot of kidney transplants at this hospital every year.

It is so frustrating knowing this was caused by a medication she was taking when she had no clue it could damage her kidneys this way.


Having to depend on dialysis can get really old. I have two friends who have different forms of nephropathy, and both have to have dialysis three times a week.

One of them is on a transplant waiting list, but the other is in too poor of a condition to qualify. She is obese, diabetic, and a smoker, so she is not considered a good use of a transplant. This is very sad to me, and if I were a match, I would give her one of mine.

Both of them bring their laptops to the treatment facility. The man watches movies on his, and the woman works while she gets her treatment. She is past retirement age, but she has to work to be able to afford her treatments.


I have a type of nephropathy that will likely become more severe as I age. Right now, my symptoms come and go, but I expect to have to rely on dialysis before my life is over.

I sometimes experience overwhelmingly strong waves of nausea. However, I do not vomit. I just feel very green and have no appetite.

Also, I am tired a lot, even when I haven't done anything to become that way. Little tasks around the house use up all of my energy, and I'm only in my thirties, so it seems unnatural.

Does anyone else here with mild nephropathy feel really fatigued because of your condition? I know my kidney function isn't normal, but so far, it isn't horribly compromised.


@Perdido – A couple of different clinical drugs are being tested right now. I was in a study involving one of them, because I also have PKD.

The drug I was taking is a diuretic. It is designed to dehydrate the cysts and hopefully shrink them. At the very least, it has been keeping new ones from forming.

The only drawback is that it also dehydrates the rest of your body. I had to drink over eleven twenty-ounce bottles of water a day while taking it, and I had to urinate an excessive amount every thirty minutes.

I could not tolerate this lifestyle, so I quit taking the drug. However, many other people remained in the study, and it is definitely a good option for people like us to have.


My sister was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease a few months ago. Her nephropathy isn't severe just yet, but the doctor did tell her that many PKD patients wind up needing a transplant later on in life.

Her kidneys are littered with cysts, which will continue to multiply as long as she has those kidneys. Should she get a transplant, the new kidneys will be unaffected by the condition.

I'm just hoping that science comes up with a cure or a treatment other than a transplant before she needs one. Does anyone know what is being done to find a cure for polycystic kidney disease?


My nephew has been diagnosed with IgA and he's only 10 years old! It's such a shock for us but his dad also has IgA, so we are thinking that genetics might be one of the nephropathy causes.

The doctor has given him a strict diet now with little to no protein. Apparently, protein tires out the kidneys a lot and is not recommended. If protein is limited, damage doesn't progress as faster.

He's doing well know but the whole family is very worried and upset that such a young child has this condition.


@anamur-- I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather and you've touched on a very important topic.

Late diagnosis is probably the biggest issue when it comes to nephropathy. From the time nephropathy starts to "End Stage Renal Disease" (ESRD), or in other words-- kidney failure, it takes many years. Nephropathy diagnosis is not difficult, it just takes some blood and urine work and if you take care of yourself, pay attention to your blood pressure and sugar levels, you will have a long quality life.

Unfortunately, nephropathy doesn't get diagnosed as early as it should in many people and by the time they realize it, a lot more damage has already been done. Most people with nephropathy end up having high blood pressure and other damaging ailments as well. In fact, kidney failure is now the most widespread disease after high blood pressure and diabetes in America.


My grandfather had nephropathy in one of his kidneys when he was younger. He was working under very difficult conditions as a construction worker and didn't realize what had happened. One of his kidneys failed due to nephropathy then but it didn't get diagnosed until years later when he also started having trouble with his other kidney.

He went through dialysis for six years before he passed away. He would go to the hospital 2-3 times a week where they would hook him up to a dialysis machine intravenously to "clean" his blood. It was a really difficult time for him. Dialysis is very tiring especially when it happens every two days.

I understood the importance of kidney health and the dangers of nephropathy syndrome very early on from my grandfather's condition.

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