Nephrotic syndrome is a set of symptoms and signs of kidney damage including:
Proteinuria—high amounts of protein in the urineHyperlipidemia—high fat and cholesterol levels in the bloodEdema—swelling in the blood
Hypoalbuminia—low levels of albumin (a protein made by the liver) in the blood
Anatomy of the Kidney
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Nephrotic syndrome is caused by damage to tiny filters in the kidneys, called glomeruli. The glomeruli filter waste and excess water from the blood. This forms urine, which reaches the bladder via the ureters. Diseases that damage the glomeruli cause nephrotic syndrome.
Diseases that may lead to nephrotic syndrome include: Glomerulonephritis—inflammation of the glomeruli from infection or other causes
Diabetic nephropathy—kidney complications from diabetesMembranous nephropathyIgA nephropathyMembranoproliferative glomerulonephritis
amyloidosis—abnormal protein deposits in the kidneys
Minimal change disease
Other diseases, including
systemic lupus erythematosus, certain infections, toxins,
sickle cell disease, renal vein thrombosis, and some types of cancer
Factors that may increase your chance of nephrotic syndrome include: DiabetesSystemic lupus erythematosusExposure to drugs or toxinsCertain infections
Nephrotic syndrome may cause:
Swelling around the following body parts:
FeetAnklesAbdomenHandsFaceEyesWeight gain from excess fluidsShortness of breathPoor appetiteFoamy urineFatigue
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
High blood pressure
may indicate kidney damage. A urine test will show if you have too much protein or any blood
in your urine. A blood test will show if your blood contains too much cholesterol and not enough protein.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with: Blood testsUrine testsBiopsy
Imaging studies evaluate the kidney and surrounding structures. This can be done with: CT scanMRI scanUltrasound
If your doctor suspects nephrotic syndrome, you may be referred to a kidney specialist.
Treatment depends on what is causing the nephrotic syndrome. Some cases are treatable with medications, while others lead to kidney failure despite treatment. The underlying cause will be treated, if possible. Steps will be taken to: Adjust your diet to replace protein lost in the urine.Use ACE inhibitors to reduce protein loss in some cases.Treat edema by restricting salt intake and taking diuretics.Lower cholesterol and blood pressure with diet, exercise, and medications.
Most conditions that lead to nephrotic syndrome cannot be prevented. However, the risk of
type 2 diabetes
may be reduced through exercise and weight control.
Nephrotic syndrome. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at:
https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/nephrotic. Accessed June 1, 2016.
Nephrotic syndrome in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/kidney-disease/nephrotic-syndrome-in-adults/Pages/facts.aspx. Updated February 2014. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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