Nephrotic Syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome may occur when the filtering units of the kidney are damaged. This damage allows protein normally kept in the plasma to leak into the urine in large amounts, which reduces the amount of protein in your blood. Since the protein in the blood helps keep fluid in the bloodstream, some of this fluid leaks out of the bloodstream into your tissues, causing swelling, called edema. The swelling may be most noticeable in your legs after you have been standing and around your eyes when you first get up in the morning. Eventually, the swelling in your legs may be there all the time, and it may also occur in other parts of your body. You may notice that your urine foams more than usual because of the amount of protein in it.

How is nephrotic syndrome diagnosed?

A urine test can check for the amount of protein, blood and other things to indicate kidney damage. A blood test can indicate how well your kidneys are working. Your doctor will also check for other diseases that may be causing the nephrotic syndrome. Diagnosis may also require a kidney biopsy.

What causes nephrotic syndrome?

Nephrotic syndrome is not a specific kidney disease. It can occur in any kidney disease that damages the filtering units in a certain way that allows them to leak protein into the urine. Some of the diseases that cause nephrotic syndrome, such as nephritis, affect only the kidney. Other diseases that cause nephrotic syndrome, such as diabetes and lupus, affect other parts of the body as well.

How is nephrotic syndrome treated?

Some of the kidney diseases that cause nephrotic syndrome are treatable with medicine. Some may get better on their own, but others get worse and may lead to kidney failure no matter what treatment is used. Unfortunately, many diseases that cause nephrotic syndrome have no treatment. Only your doctor can find out what specific disease is causing you to have it.

What happens if there is no treatment for my nephrotic syndrome?

If your nephrotic syndrome is caused by a disease that has no specific treatment, help may still be available. Controlling your blood pressure is important. Reducing salt in your diet can help to control blood pressure and swelling (edema). Your doctor may also prescribe diuretics (water pills), which are prescribed for high blood pressure and can also help with swelling. The doctor may also prescribe the use of other blood pressure medicines that can also help reduce the protein in your urine.

Although the syndrome is caused by the loss of protein into your urine, eating a high-protein diet does not help and may actually make matters worse. Nephrotic syndrome may also cause an increase in fat in your blood. If the level of fats in your blood is too high, your doctor may recommend treatments to lower the levels of fat in your blood.

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© 2014 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.