Acute Nephritis

Written by Brindles Lee Macon and Winnie Yu | Published on August 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD


Think of your kidneys as your body’s filters, a sophisticated waste removal system comprised of two bean-shaped organs. Every day, your hard working kidneys process 200 quarts of blood in a day and remove two quarts of waste products and excess water. If the kidneys suddenly become inflamed, you will develop a condition called acute nephritis. Acute nephritis has several causes and can lead to kidney failure.

The Types of Acute Nephritis

There are several types of acute nephritis. They are:

Interstitial Nephritis

In interstitial nephritis, the spaces between the renal tubules that form urine become inflamed. The kidneys swell from the inflammation.


Pyelonephritis is an infection in the bladder that travels up the ureters and spreads into the kidneys. Ureters are two tubes that transport urine from each kidney to the bladder, the muscular organ that holds urine until it passes out of the body through the urethra.


This type of acute nephritis produces inflammation in the glomeruli. Glomeruli are the tiny capillaries that transport blood and behave as filtering units. Damaged and inflamed glomeruli may not filter the blood properly.

What Causes Acute Nephritis?

Each type of acute nephritis has its own causes.

Interstitial Nephritis

This type is often caused by an allergic reaction to a medication or antibiotic. An allergic reaction is the body’s immediate response a foreign substance.

Other causes include the following:

  • Having low potassium in your blood supply. Potassium is a mineral that helps regulate many functions in the body, including metabolism.
  • Taking medications for long periods of time may damage the tissues of the kidneys.


The majority of pyelonephritis infections occur from the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli), which is found in the intestine.

Although bacterial infections are the leading causes of pyelonephritis, there are other possible causes:

  • Urinary examinations that use a cystoscope, an instrument that looks inside the bladder.
  • Surgery on the bladder, kidneys, or ureters.
  • The formation of kidney stones, hard rock-like formations consisting of minerals and other waste material.


The main cause of this type of kidney infection is unknown. However, some conditions may encourage an infection.

  • Having problems in the immune system.
  • Having a history of cancer.
  • Experiencing an abscess that breaks and travels to your kidneys through your blood circulation.

Who Is at Risk for Acute Nephritis?

Certain people are at greater risk for acute nephritis. The risk factors include:

  • A family history of kidney disease and infection.
  • Having an immune system disease, such as lupus.
  • Taking too many antibiotics or pain medications.
  • Recent surgery in the urinary tract.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Nephritis?

Your symptoms will vary depending on the type of acute nephritis you have. The most common symptoms for all three types of acute nephritis are:

  • pain in the pelvis
  • pain or a burning sensation while urinating
  • frequent need to urinate
  • cloudy urine
  • blood or pus may be present in urine
  • pain in the kidney area and/or abdomen
  • swelling in the body, commonly in the face, legs, and feet
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • high blood pressure (glomerulonephritis)

Diagnosing Acute Nephritis

Various diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm a case of acute nephritis. These tests include the following:

  • A biopsy of the kidneys. A biopsy is a small tissue sample taken from an organ and examined in a laboratory setting.
  • Urine and blood testing. These tests may detect and locate bacteria and signs of infection. Abnormal blood cells may be present to show signs of infection.
  • A CT scan may be used to take pictures of your pelvis and abdomen.

Treating Acute Nephritis

Treatment for glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis may require treating the underlying conditions that are causing the problems.


Antibiotics and pain relievers may be used if you have pyelonephritis. If high blood pressure is present, you may need calcium channel blockers. You may need corticosteroids or other immune suppressing medications, too.

Home Care

You may need to drink more water than you usually do. Water helps your kidneys flush out any waste products that may be hampering your recovery. You may also be advised to eat less sodium to prevent fluid retention.

What Is to Be Expected in the Long Term?

All three types of acute nephritis will improve with immediate treatment; however, if it goes untreated, you may develop kidney failure. Kidney failure occurs when one or both kidneys stop working (for a short time or permanently). In this case, you may need dialysis. Dialysis filters your blood the same way your kidneys would, but requires a machine. Some cases of kidney failure improve, and dialysis is no longer needed.

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