Kidney inflammation: symptoms, causes, treatment and prognosis

Kidney inflammation is in fact a collective name for a number of inflammatory diseases of the kidney. In these diseases, the filter function of the kidneys is disrupted. As a result, some things in the body become out of balance, such as the water, fat and protein balance. With an inflamed kidney you may retain water, develop high blood pressure, have blood in the urine and other symptoms. treatment often consists only of treating such symptoms. Sometimes medications are used that weaken the functioning of the immune system. Kidney inflammation is also known as nephritis

  • What is a kidney infection?
  • Two shapes
  • Often no complaints
  • Symptoms of a kidney infection
  • Initially no symptoms
  • Changes in the urine
  • Other phenomena
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Kidney failure
  • Causes of inflamed kidneys
  • IgA nephropathy
  • Bacterial infection
  • Cause unknown
  • Secondary renal inflammation
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Ultrasound and kidney biopsy
  • Treatment of kidney inflammation
  • Prognosis
  • Prevention


Location of the kidneys and bladder / Source: Nerthuz/

What is a kidney infection?

Two shapes

In kidney inflammation, depending on the location of the inflammation, a distinction can be made between inflammation of the renal corpuscles (glomerulonephritis) or of the connective tissue space and the renal tubules or tubules contorti (tubulointerstitial nephritis). Inflammation of the renal corpuscles most often occurs due to immune-mediated reactions, less often due to general diseases of the body, which cause an inflammatory response of the renal corpuscles. Tubulointerstitial nephritis usually occurs as an allergic reaction to certain medications, but can also occur in the context of infections or general diseases.

Often no complaints

Kidney inflammation (unlike acute renal pelvic inflammation) often causes little or no discomfort, because healthy parts of the kidney can continue to function for a long time. A routine examination usually reveals abnormal urinary findings, such as the presence of protein and blood in the urine, thereby detecting kidney inflammation. Kidney inflammation is diagnosed by laboratory tests. A tissue examination (kidney biopsy) is usually necessary for a more accurate diagnosis. Treatment can be initiated based on this.

Symptoms of a kidney infection

Initially no symptoms

If some renal corpuscles (glomeruli) are destroyed as a result of a kidney infection, the healthy renal corpuscles first take over the filter function. It can therefore take a long time before the disease manifests itself through symptoms. Only when more than 50 percent of the tissue of both kidneys has been destroyed can the loss of function of the kidneys be detected with the usual diagnostic methods.

Changes in the urine

If the filter function of the kidney is disturbed, changes in the urine may occur. The amount of urine can decrease significantly, but can also increase in the chronic stage. In addition, the urine may change color if blood or protein is excreted in the urine. If the urine is cloudy and foamy, this may indicate the excretion of protein (proteinuria), while blood gives the urine a brownish color (hematuria). However, blood in the urine does not always have to be visible to the naked eye.

Headache / Source: Andresr/

Other phenomena

In addition to changes in the urine, other symptoms may occur. You often feel tired and exhausted. You may also experience headaches, pain in the limbs and pain in the side. Sometimes high blood pressure occurs. Occasionally, fluid also accumulates in the tissue (edema). This is noticeable, for example, when your eyelids or other parts of the face swell. The hands and feet can also be affected.

Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome can also occur. The kidney filters no longer work properly and therefore a lot of proteins end up in the urine (proteinuria) and at the same time there is a shortage of proteins in the blood (hypoproteinemia). In addition, fluid retention (edema) occurs, for example in the eyelids or legs. A disorder of lipid metabolism with elevated blood lipid levels is also part of the nephrotic syndrome.

Kidney failure

The worst possible consequence is renal insufficiency or kidney failure.

Causes of inflamed kidneys

Kidney inflammation can have various causes.

IgA nephropathy

The most common form of primary renal inflammation is IgA nephropathy or Berger’s disease, which is caused by immunological processes. In the process, complexes of antibodies (antibodies) formed by the body but slightly changed are deposited in the kidneys, which are produced in the body in response to infections, especially after infections of the upper respiratory tract. The result is inflammatory changes that damage kidney tissue and impair its function.

Bacterial infection

Kidney inflammation can also occur after or during a bacterial infection. The culprits may include streptococci, which cause tonsillitis (tonsillitis) or middle ear infection (otitis media). These bacteria form complexes with the antibodies produced by the body against the infection and are deposited in the renal corpuscles (post-infectious glomerulonephritis).

Cause unknown

However, in a large proportion of people with primary kidney inflammation, the cause of the kidney inflammation is unknown (idiopathic).

Secondary renal inflammation

Secondary renal inflammation occurs due to other underlying diseases, for example systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or other immune diseases. Various infectious diseases (such as syphilis, hepatitis B and C and HIV) and cancers such as lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma) or certain malignant diseases of the lymphatic system can lead to kidney inflammation. Certain medications containing penicillamine, gold, or mercury can also cause kidney inflammation. Doctors prescribe penicillamine for kidney stones and for liver disease Wilson’s disease. Another cause of kidney inflammation is heroin use.

Laboratory urinalysis / Source: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Examination and diagnosis

Blood and urine tests

Kidney infection should be considered if you have certain symptoms such as blood in the urine without associated pain when urinating, greatly reduced urine output, sudden weight gain with swelling in the limbs or face and high blood pressure. Such symptoms give rise to blood tests and urine tests. The focus is on urine testing with test strips and microscopic examination. In the blood, the function of the kidneys and inflammation levels can be checked and the amount of protein and fats measured.

Ultrasound and kidney biopsy

If a kidney infection is suspected, an ultrasound of the kidneys can also be performed. A kidney biopsy is only performed if the suspicion is further confirmed by the blood and urine tests and associated symptoms. A small piece of tissue is removed from the kidney under anesthesia with a thin cannula and examined under the microscope. The biopsy is the only way to unambiguously clarify the cause and make the diagnosis.

Treatment of kidney inflammation

The treatment of kidney inflammation can consist of a course of antibiotics. Symptoms such as overhydration (presence of too much fluid in the body), high blood pressure and increased blood lipids or the loss of large amounts of protein through the kidneys can be treated with medication. A low-salt diet can also help lower blood pressure. Depending on the type and severity of the disease, medications that weaken the immune system may also be needed. These so-called immunosuppressants are prescribed by a kidney specialist. Few cases are very serious and can lead to kidney failure. If kidney failure occurs, kidney dialysis and kidney transplantation are available.


The most common forms of kidney inflammation in adults and children have a good prognosis. With proper treatment, kidney failure can be prevented. Some causes are less easy to treat. In any case, regular check-ups and consistent blood pressure control, possibly with medication, are necessary to delay or prevent the development of insidious renal failure and complications for the cardiovascular system.

Exercise is good for body and mind / Source: Goodluz/


Although it is not always possible to prevent kidney infection, certain lifestyle measures can reduce the risk for many people, for example:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • quit smoking
  • keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels within healthy limits
  • exercise daily
  • healthy and varied food


read more

  • Kidneys: function, location, anatomy and functioning of the kidneys
  • Kidney damage: symptoms of chronic poorly functioning kidneys
  • Kidney Stones: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Removal
  • Renal pelvic inflammation: symptoms, cause and treatment
  • Renal cysts (cysts in kidney): symptoms and treatment
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