Glomerular diseases affect the filtering units of your kidney, the glomeruli. Symptoms include foamy urine, pink urine, high blood pressure and swelling in your face, hands, ankles or feet. Many diseases can cause glomerular disease. The leading cause is diabetes-related nephropathy. Treatments depend on the cause. The goal is to prevent or slow kidney damage.
Glomerular disease is the result of conditions that affect a specific part of your kidney called glomeruli. Glomeruli are the tiny network of blood vessels that are the “cleaning units” of your kidney. They filter waste and remove extra fluids from your blood. When glomeruli are damaged and can’t function as they should, it’s called glomerular disease.
Many diseases and conditions can damage the glomeruli. Two broad terms used to describe many forms of damage to the glomeruli are:
Glomerular disease can damage your kidneys and, in some cases, lead to kidney failure.
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Your kidneys – two bean-shaped organs to the left and right of your spine just below the rib cage — are the main filters for your body.
Blood enters your kidneys through arteries. Once inside your kidneys, the arteries branch and blood passes into the network of tiny looping blood vessels called glomeruli. Each glomerulus is attached to the opening of a small fluid-collecting tube called a tubule. Each glomerulus-tubule unit is called a nephron. There are about one million nephrons in each kidney.
Properly functioning glomeruli work by keeping blood cells and protein circulating in the bloodstream, where they are needed by your body. Meanwhile, glomeruli filter out waste products and extra water, passing the liquids into the tubule (which becomes pee). Urine (pee) leaves the kidneys through larger tubes called ureters, which transport the urine to your bladder.
Glomerular disease damages the glomeruli, affecting their ability to properly function. Instead of keeping protein and red blood cells circulating in the blood, damaged glomeruli leak some of these products into your urine. One of the jobs of proteins in the blood, such as albumin, is to move extra fluid from the body to the bloodstream so it can be filtered by the kidneys and removed from the body as urine. Not having enough protein in your bloodstream keeps extra fluid in your body, causing swelling in areas including your face, hands, feet, abdomen and ankles.
Damaged glomeruli also can’t filter out waste products and these products begin to build up in your blood.
Causes of glomerular disease include:
Signs of glomerular disease include one or more of the following:
After a thorough physical and medical history, your healthcare provider will order several tests, including:
If these lab tests indicate kidney damage, your healthcare provider may order:
Many diseases can result in glomerular disease. The goal of treatment is to treat the underlying cause (if it can be determined) to protect your kidneys from further damage. Here are some general categories of diseases that can cause glomerular disease and examples and treatments for each.
These are diseases in which your body’s immune system attacks itself. These diseases can affect your entire body or may attack only specific organs or areas of your body. Autoimmune diseases that affect the kidney include:
Infection-related glomerular disease
Glomerular disease sometimes develops rapidly after an infection in another part of your body.
Other glomerular diseases
If your kidneys can’t get rid of waste products in your blood, waste products will build up. This buildup can damage your kidneys and cause loss of function. Loss of function can be acute (sudden) or slow and ongoing (chronic). Depending on the form of glomerular disease, renal function may be lost in a matter of days or weeks or may be lost gradually over decades.
You can make lifestyle changes to keep yourself healthy to reduce your risk of developing diseases that affect your kidneys. These changes include:
It may not be possible to prevent all the causes of glomerular disease. However, as soon as you notice signs of glomerular disease, see your healthcare provider. It’s important to discover treatable causes of disease and to start treatment as soon as possible. Treatments may slow the kidney damage and/or prevent it from getting worse.
Early diagnosis and early treatment always result in the best chance for a good outcome. The goal of treatment is to prevent or slow the progression of kidney damage. If damage does worsen and leads to kidney failure, dialysis or a kidney transplant are the only options.
Nephrosis, also called nephrotic syndrome, is a collection of symptoms. Large amounts of protein from the bloodstream end up into your urine, which causes a buildup of fluids in your body. Symptoms include:
The aim of treatment is to treat the underlying cause (if it’s known). Treatments includes:
If the underlying cause of nephrosis is a kidney disease, it can’t be cured. The glomeruli in the kidneys can’t function properly, resulting in the buildup of wastes and water in the blood. Kidney failure occurs. Treatment, as failure worsens, is dialysis or kidney transplant.
If you have signs or symptoms of glomerular disease or any changes in your health, see your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many different diseases and conditions can damage the glomeruli in your kidneys. It’s important to be aware of your body so you can notice changes and see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/05/2021.
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