Membranous Glomerulonephritis: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis
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Membranous Glomerulonephritis

What Is Membranous Glomerulonephritis?

Your kidneys are made up of a number of different structures that aid in the removal of wastes from your blood and the formation of urine. Glomerulonephritis (GN) is a condition in which changes in the structures of your kidney can cause swelling and inflammation.

Membranous glomerulonephritis (MGN) is a specific type of GN. MGN develops when inflammation of your kidney structures cause problems with the functioning of your kidney. MGN is known by other names, including extramembranous glomerulonephritis, nephropathy, and nephritis.

Other complications can also arise from this condition, including:

  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • blood clots
  • kidney failure
  • kidney disease

What Are the Symptoms of Membranous Glomerulonephritis?

Symptoms

The symptoms of MGN are different for everyone, and you may not have symptoms at all. If symptoms do develop, they typically include:

  • swelling of the hands, feet, or face
  • fatigue
  • foamy urine
  • an excessive need to urinate at night
  • weight gain
  • poor appetite
  • blood in the urine

MGN causes damage to your kidney, resulting in the filtration of protein from your blood into your urine. Your body needs protein, and a lack of protein leads to water retention and swelling. All these symptoms are associated and known as nephrotic syndrome.

What Causes Membranous Glomerulonephritis?

Causes

MGN can develop as a primary kidney disease, meaning it’s not caused by another condition. This kind of MGN has no known cause.

However, MGN can also develop as a result of other underlying health conditions. You’re more likely to develop MGN if you:

  • have been exposed to toxins such as mercury
  • use certain medicines, including gold, penicillamine, trimethadione, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or skin-lightening creams
  • have infections that affect your immune system such as malaria, hepatitis B, Hepatitis C endocarditis, or syphilis
  • have certain types of cancers including melanoma
  • have an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Grave’s disease
  • have had a kidney or bone marrow transplant

MGN is very rare. It occurs in two out of every 10,000 people. It’s most commonly diagnosed in people over age 40.

How Is Membranous Glomerulonephritis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis

If you have MGN symptoms such as swelling, your doctor may order a urinalysis, which will show if you have protein in your urine. Other tests may also be ordered to confirm diagnosis, including:

  • blood and urine albumin tests
  • blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • creatinine blood
  • creatinine clearance
  • lipid panel
  • blood and urine protein

If these tests indicate the presence of MGN, your doctor may also order a kidney biopsy. Your doctor will obtain a small sample of kidney tissue which will then be sent to a lab for analysis. The results of this test will help confirm your diagnosis.

Following diagnosis of MGN, your doctor may perform additional tests to see what may be causing your condition. Examples of these tests include:

  • an antinuclear antibodies test
  • an antidouble-strand DNA test
  • a test for hepatitis B
  • a test for hepatitis C
  • a test for malaria
  • a test for syphilis
  • a test for complement levels
  • a cryoglobulin test

How Is Membranous Glomerulonephritis Treated?

Treatment

There’s no cure for MGN, and treatment focuses on controlling and reducing your symptoms. You may need to make changes in your diet by reducing your salt and protein intake, and you may also need to take medication to help control your blood pressure. Your doctor may prescribe drugs known as corticosteroids to suppress your immune system and water pills, or diuretics, may be used to reduce swelling. MGN may place you at risk for developing blood clots, and your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medications to control this.

If MGN is caused by an underlying disorder, your doctor may recommend treatment for that condition as well. The specific treatment plan will be individualized for you. Talk to your doctor to find out what treatments they recommend.

What Is the Outlook for People with Membranous Glomerulonephritis?

Outlook

The long-term outlook for people with MGN varies. A majority of people with MGN experience long periods without symptoms and then develop flare-ups. You’ll need to visit your doctor for regular checkups so they can monitor your condition. In some instances, the disease may resolve without treatment.

Many people who develop MGN develop some irreversible kidney damage within two to 20 years of being diagnosed with the disease. End-stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure occurs in 14 percent of people after five years. If you have kidney failure, your doctor will prescribe dialysis, which will clean your blood when your kidneys no longer work. People with ESRD may also be eligible for a kidney transplant.

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