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Nephrotic Syndrome: More Serious Than You Think

Jul 05, 2019
Little girl smiling

When you see the words “nephrotic syndrome,” you might think the words describe a specific disease that impacts a particular part of the body. Because we know “nephro” means kidney, we know this is a disease in the kidneys. But this isn’t quite true. 

Nephrotic syndrome comes with a range of signs and symptoms. And just as there are a variety of signs and symptoms, so too are the ways nephrotic syndrome can affect people. 

Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disease where the kidney filters (glomeruli) allow too much protein (albumin) to escape from the blood stream to the urine. This means the protein, or albumin, level in our blood gets really low. 

Because albumin helps blood vessels to keep fluids, when the supply of albumin becomes low, fluids escape the blood vessels and move to other parts of the body. This can cause a variety of problems, including:

  • Swelling (edema) in the legs, face and abdomen
  • Significant weight gain
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Kidney injury
  • Infections
  • High cholesterol

There is more than one type of nephrotic syndrome. And the syndrome can be either primary or secondary.

Primary Nephrotic Syndrome

“Primary” is used to describe the diseases that start the kidneys’ filtering system. The most common kind of primary nephrotic syndrome is called idiopathic nephrotic syndrome. Idiopathic means that a disease occurs with no established cause to date. The most common type of idiopathic nephrotic syndrome is called minimal-change nephrotic syndrome (MCNS) or focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).

Usually primary nephrotic syndrome can be managed, but there will be relapses. Occasionally, the disease is not responsive to therapy and daily and/or multiple immunosuppressive drugs are required to control it. In some cases, kidney failure requiring dialysis may occur.

Secondary Nephrotic Syndrome

“Secondary” means that the nephrotic syndrome is secondary to another condition or disease. These could include any of the following:

No matter what type of nephrotic syndrome someone might have, it can cause significant problems and needs to be treated properly and quickly. It is critically important for patients with nephrotic syndrome to be seen by a nephrologist as soon as possible. Ideally, they should be seen by a nephrologist who has been recognized by NephCure Kidney International as a nephrotic syndrome specialist.

To learn more about the nephrotic syndrome experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Mahmoud Kallash, MD
Nephrology
Amy Randall-McSorley
Amy Randall-McSorley, MMC, EdD Candidate
Marketing and Public Relations

Amy Randall-McSorley is a Marketing Senior Specialist, Physician Referral, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. As a freelance writer, one of her assignments since 2010 has been the weekly commuter column for the Circleville Herald. She has also written for other publications, authored three published books, and teaches writing workshops.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.