Nephrotic Syndrome

What is nephrotic syndrome?

The nephrotic syndrome is a term for a group of symptoms that occur as a result of damage to the small filter units in the kidneys. This condition often causes swelling of the feet, hands and face, and foamy urine. Many different conditions can cause nephrotic syndrome, and the treatment of the symptoms of nephrotic syndrome depends on the underlying cause.


The tiny filter units of the kidneys are called glomeruli. These filters waste and extract water from the blood and don't normally allow protein from the blood to slip into the urine. If these filters are damaged, too much protein slips from the blood into the urine and as a result, fluid builds up in the body and causes swelling. There are multiple diseases that can cause damage to glomeruli and cause the symptoms of nephrotic syndrome. Some of the most common include inflammatory diseases that affect the glomeruli, diabetes, preeclampsia, multiple myeloma, systemic lupus erythematosis, amyloidosis, some infections and some medications.


Symptoms may include swelling around the eyes or in the feet or ankles, weight gain (from fluid build-up), foamy urine, loss of appetite and tiredness. If a large amount of fluid builds up in the body, fluid might eventually collect in the abdomen and chest, causing a large, tight belly and shortness of breath.


The diagnosis is made by a doctor based on the levels of protein in the blood and urine. Blood tests to check kidney and liver function, and to investigate for inflammation are also done. An ultrasound scan of the kidneys may be needed, and a small sample of the kidney (a biopsy) may be taken in order to diagnose the underlying cause of the kidney damage.


It is important to diagnose and treat the medical condition causing the nephrotic syndrome. Medications that may help control symptoms may include diuretics (to reduce fluid collecting in the body), blood pressure medications (to protect the kidneys from further damage) and anti-inflammatory medications (to reduce any inflammation which may be causing kidney damage). Reducing the amount of salt and fluid that one eats and drinks is recommended.