Post-Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Post-Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis is quite a mouthful, so doctors usually just call it post- streptococcal GN, glomerulonephritis or PSGN. No matter what it’s called, it means big problems with the kidneys. If left untreated, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis can cause complete kidney failure in some people. In others, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis goes away by itself in two or three months. There is a lot about this condition that medical science still has yet to learn about, even though this ailment was first described in the 1700s as a life-threatening complication of scarlet fever.

Causes

Fortunately, this is a rare medical condition. As the “post” part of its name suggests, this ailment occurs after a person has suffered from a throat infection or a skin infection. Since most people wisely get such infections treated, the infection clears up before post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis can set in. Strains of the Streptococcus bacteria are responsible for the throat or skin infections and then the kidney problems.

PSGN is mostly seen in children about one to four weeks after they have suffered from strep throat or a skin infection. However, children rarely suffer kidney failure from PSGN. An adult, however, is more at risk of kidney failure than a child.

Symptoms

Symptoms of post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis are:

  • Passing urine that is dark red or brown in color

  • Urinating much less than usual

  • Passing blood in the urine

  • Elevation of blood pressure

  • Swelling of the abdomen, face, hands, feet, ankles or swelling in all of these places

  • Pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints such as the hands, feet, ankles, neck, elbows, hips or knees.

Anyone who has recently suffered a throat or skin infection who experiences one or more of these symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to alleviate the symptoms and keep the kidneys functioning. If the kidneys are doing poorly, then the patient may also need dialysis. Treatment is a combination of medications and change of diet to reduce the patient’s blood pressure. Medications given include:

  • antibiotics such as penicillin to try and kill the bacteria

  • drugs that lower the blood pressure such as calcium-channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or beta blockers

  • loop diuretics to make a person urinate more

Patients need bed rest and salt eliminated from the diet for a few days until they begin to improve. If blood pressure ever gets dangerously high, they will need their blood pressure medication taken intravenously instead of in pill form. The patient also needs to go on a low salt diet.

Spouses or family members should get tested for the presence of Streptococcus bacteria to prevent them from developing glomerulonephritis. If they do have the bacteria, then they should be given a round of antibiotics.

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