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Chronic glomerulonephritis causes destruction of the glomeruli in the kidneys. Each glomerulus is made up of blood vessels that filter the blood and help to produce urine, so as they become dysfunctional, the kidneys begin to have difficulty with blood filtration. This can lead to initial symptoms, like small amounts of blood in the urine. Some cases resolve without treatment, but for many, treatment is necessary in order to sustain life.
Many times, the causes for chronic glomerulonephritis are not easily identified. Certain illnesses may predispose a patient toward developing this condition, including autoimmune disorders like end stage AIDs, lupus, and some blood sugar disorders like diabetes. In about 25% of people, however, the cause is unknown and those affected have had no earlier problems with kidney health.
Often, the condition is diagnosed through a urinalysis, which will show blood and protein in the urine. Since it frequently causes high blood pressure, those with hypertension are also typically screened for the disease. Additional tests that may confirm the condition are ultrasounds of the abdomen and the kidneys, and chest X-ray. Patients often retain fluid, which can be shown in the lungs. Some medical professionals also prefer to do a biopsy of the kidneys, since identifying cause when possible can alter treatment.
Treatment for chronic glomerulonephritis can depend upon cause — if it can be identified. One of the main concerns is controlling high blood pressure, which though a cause of the illness, can also contribute to worsening it. Further, high blood pressure alone represents greater risk for stroke and must be treated. Normally, hypertension is treated with a variety of blood pressure medications, and patients may also need to go on a salt and fluid restricted diet.
In severe cases, kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant is required to help the body adequately filter blood products. Transplant can often halt the disease, but can be difficult to obtain. If the disease is caused by conditions like AIDs, lupus, or diabetes, a transplant may not be successful. The condition can also recur in the transplanted kidney.
How successful the treatment is depends upon the degree to which symptoms can be controlled or stopped. Serious damage to the kidneys, called nephrotic syndrome, may be irreversible. When such damage can be controlled, patients may recover well. Of course, the outcome of treatment also depends upon cause, and with illnesses like AIDs, the condition tends to progressively worsen.