IgA nephropathy, or Berger’s disease, is a kidney disease caused by a buildup of abnormal IgA antibody. Over time, it leads to kidney damage or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) — kidney failure. Symptoms include hematuria, or blood in your urine. Medication can slow the disease’s progress. Some people need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
IgA nephropathy is a type of kidney disease. The name stands for immunoglobulin A nephropathy (nuh-FROP-uh-thee). IgA is an antibody, a protein your immune system makes to protect you from bacteria and viruses.
In people with IgA nephropathy, IgA builds up in their kidneys and causes inflammation. This inflammation damages kidney tissues.
IgA nephropathy is also called Berger’s disease. Two French doctors, Jean Berger and Nicole Hinglais, discovered the condition.
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Both conditions have to do with the protein IgA. People with selective IgA deficiency either don’t have enough IgA or have low levels of it.
The kidneys are part of your urinary system. Here’s how they typically work:
IgA nephropathy attacks the glomeruli. This type of glomerular disease occurs when IgA deposits build up and damage the glomeruli. The damage causes your kidneys to leak blood (hematuria) and protein (proteinuria) into your urine.
Eventually, the nephrons may scar, causing kidney disease. As the scarring progresses, you may develop end-stage kidney (renal) disease (ESRD). This process can happen quickly over the course of months or can take as long as 20 years after your initial diagnosis.
If you develop ESRD, your kidneys can’t work well enough to keep you healthy. You may need:
Risk factors for IgA nephropathy include:
IgA nephropathy is a common kidney disease. It can happen to people at any age.
Usually, the first signs of the disease occur in a person’s late teens to late 30s. In the United States, men are twice as likely as women to have IgA nephropathy.
Researchers believe IgA nephropathy is an autoimmune kidney disease. Your body’s immune system attacks your kidneys.
People with IgA nephropathy have a higher level of IgA with less galactose than is typical. Galactose is a type of sugar. Your body considers these low-galactose IgA “foreign.” As a result:
When you have a cold or other respiratory infection, IgA immune complexes circulate more. Some of these complexes end up in your kidneys. As a result, some people have symptoms of IgA nephropathy after having a cold.
For some people, this condition runs in families. Researchers have discovered some genetic markers, meaning that a genetic mutation (change) may cause IgA nephropathy.
At first, you may have no symptoms. It can be years or even decades before signs appear.
The most common symptoms are:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical and family history. You may have:
If you need further testing, your healthcare provider may order a kidney biopsy. This procedure can confirm a diagnosis of IgA nephropathy.
Your healthcare provider uses a needle to remove a small piece of kidney tissue. A pathologist examines the tissue to look for IgA deposits in the glomeruli and see the extent of the damage.
Treatment can slow the progress of the disease and prevent ESRD. If you have IgA nephropathy, your healthcare provider will probably refer you to a nephrologist, a kidney disease specialist.
Treatment for IgA nephropathy includes medication to:
Some research shows that a tonsillectomy (tonsil removal) can benefit a small portion of people who have IgA nephropathy. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if this may be an option for you.
There isn’t a known way to prevent IgA nephropathy. If IgA nephropathy runs in your family, talk to your healthcare provider. They can recommend steps to stay healthy, such as keeping blood pressure and cholesterol well managed.
Researchers have not found a link between nutrition or diet and preventing IgA nephropathy.
Sometimes, IgA nephropathy gets better on its own. In rare cases, IgA nephropathy progresses rapidly. Kidney failure can result within a few years.
There isn’t a cure for this condition. With the right treatment, people can keep their kidneys as healthy as possible and slow the disease’s progression.
About 1 in 4 adults with IgA nephropathy eventually get ESRD. About 1 in every 10 to 20 children with IgA nephropathy develop ESRD.
Everyone’s disease progression is different. Some people respond well to treatment and can live with the disease for a long time.
If IgA nephropathy progresses to kidney failure, you may need to consider a kidney transplant. Your care team will discuss dialysis and kidney transplant with you.
See your healthcare provider if you notice:
If you have kidney disease such as IgA nephropathy, it’s important to:
Some healthcare providers recommend eating less protein if you have any type of kidney disease. That’s because proteins break down into products that your kidneys need to filter. Eating too much protein may overwork your kidneys and cause them to decline faster. But if you don’t eat enough protein, you may end up with malnutrition, when your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. A nutritionist can help you find a balanced diet for your needs. If you’re on a low-protein diet, you may need regular blood tests to check your protein levels.
Some healthcare providers recommend fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests this approach may lower blood pressure and slow the progress of the disease. Speak to your healthcare provider before you start taking any supplements.
If you have IgA nephropathy, ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
IgA nephropathy is a kidney disease caused by a buildup of the antibody IgA in your kidneys. The resulting inflammation damages your kidneys over time. Treatment aims to slow down the disease. For some, the condition may continue progressing despite treatments. But if this happens, dialysis or a kidney transplant can offer relief.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/13/2021.
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