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IgA Nephropathy

What is IgA Nephropathy?

Many diseases can affect your kidney function by attacking and damaging the glomeruli, the tiny filtering units inside your kidney where blood is cleaned. The conditions that affect your glomeruli are called glomerular diseases. Glomerular diseases include many conditions with many different causes.  Immunoglobulin A Nephropathy, called IgAN for short, or Berger’s disease, is a condition that damages the glomeruli inside your kidneys and can cause kidney disease. 

What causes IgA Nephropathy?

The causes of IgAN are not well understood. IgAN is not just a kidney disease. It is a response from your immune system (your body’s defense system) to outside irritation (like viruses). The immune response is what affects your kidneys. The immune response releases Immunoglobulin A (IgA). Immunoglobulin A is a protein that helps your body fight infections. IgA nephropathy occurs when IgA protein gets stuck in kidneys causing inflammation. The inflammation causes your kidneys to leak blood and protein (usually immediately) and over the course of many years, your kidneys can lose function and lead to kidney failure. In some cases, the disease seems to cluster in certain families and in certain areas of the world. It rarely occurs in people of African heritage. Some researchers believe there are genetic factors that may play a role in causing the disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of IgA nephropathy?

Each person may have a different set of signs and symptoms from IgAN. You may only see some signs on your own, while others may be found by your healthcare provider.

The most common signs are

  • Hematuria: Having blood in your urine that can sometimes make it dark brown or cola colored.  
  • Proteinuria: Foamy urine due to large amounts of protein leaking into your urine.
IgA Nephropathy

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What tests are done to find out if I have IgA nephropathy?

The first clues are the signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may run tests to help understand the cause of your symptoms and find the proper treatment for you.

These tests are:

  • Urine test: A urine test will help find protein and blood in your urine.
  • Blood test: A blood test will help find levels of protein, cholesterol, and wastes in your blood.
  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR): A blood test will be done to know how well your kidneys are filtering the wastes from your body.
  • Kidney biopsy:  In this test, a tiny piece of your kidney is removed with a special needle, and looked at under a microscope. The kidney biopsy may show if you have a certain type of a protein that helps your body fight infection, called an IgA antibody, in the glomerulus.

How is IgA Nephropathy treated?

Efforts to slow the process of kidney damage may include the following:

  • Corticosteroids (often called “steroids”)
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • ACE inhibitors and ARBs
  • Diet change
  • Fish oil supplements

Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs: These medications are used to calm your immune system (your body’s defense system) and stop it from attacking your glomeruli.

ACE inhibitors and ARBs: These are blood pressure medications used to reduce protein loss and control blood pressure.

Diet change:  Some diet changes may be needed, such as reducing salt (sodium) and protein in your food choices to lighten the load of wastes on the kidneys.

Your healthcare provider may recommend the use of vitamin supplements in the form of fish oil. Some studies have shown this may help with treatment of IgAN. Before starting any supplements or vitamins, you should always speak with your healthcare provider.

Will I have kidney failure because of IgAN?

You should talk with your doctor about your condition, because the progression of the disease depends on many factors. Treatment aims to slow the process of kidney disease. Everyone is different in how they respond to treatment. Over time, some patients with IgAN slowly get worse until they reach kidney failure, If this occurs, you will need a kidney transplant or dialysis to stay alive. Some people respond well to treatment and may live with the disease for many years while being monitored for any signs of change.

Where can I find more information?

If you have more questions, you should speak with your doctor or healthcare professional.  You can also get more information from: 

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