Glomeruli are clusters of capillaries in your kidneys that help to filter waste from your blood. When these structures become inflamed, a condition known as glomerulonephritis (GN) develops.

Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis (MPGN) is a specific type of GN that occurs when your body’s immune system functions abnormally. Your immune system, which is responsible for fighting off diseases, begins to attack healthy cells in your kidneys, destroying the function of your glomeruli.

MPGN goes by other names, including:

  • mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis
  • nephropathy
  • nephritis

MPGN can be type 1 or type 2. Most cases of the disorder are type 1. Type 2 is much less common, and it’s a more aggressive form of the disease.

The symptoms of MPGN vary depending on the person, and they depend on the type of the disease that you have. In some cases, you may not have any symptoms of the disease. In others, damage to your kidney will produce specific symptoms commonly associated with kidney disease. These symptoms can include:

  • blood in your urine
  • changes in your mental status, such as confusion or lethargy
  • cloudy urine
  • dark urine
  • a decrease in urine volume
  • swelling, or edema, in your hands, feet, or face

MPGN occurs when your immune system malfunctions, mistakenly attacking healthy cells. Underlying conditions that contribute to abnormal immune system function include:

  • autoimmune diseases, such as scleroderma, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and sarcoidosis
  • certain cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • certain types of infections, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, malaria, and endocarditis

Sometimes it’s not possible to identify the cause of the disease. MPGN typically develops in children between the ages of 8 and 16 who have one of these conditions.

To diagnose MPGN, your doctor will examine you and order blood and urine tests. If you have edema of your hands or feet and high blood pressure, your doctor will order several different tests to confirm your diagnosis. Blood and urine tests used to diagnose MPGN include:

  • blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine level tests
  • a serum complement C3 nephritic factor level test
  • a serum complement level test
  • a urinalysis
  • a urine protein test

If these results indicate the presence of MPGN, your doctor will also order a kidney, or renal, biopsy. A kidney biopsy requires the removal of a small sample of tissue from your kidneys. Your doctor will need the results of this test to determine if you have MPGN type 1, 2, or 3. Although it’s invasive, the renal biopsy is the only definitive method for diagnosing MPGN.

Treatment of MPGN depends on the severity of your condition. There’s no cure for the disease. Treatment focuses on controlling your symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Your doctor may ask you to change your diet. You may need to limit your intake of salt, protein, and fluids. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to control your blood pressure. Medications may also be ordered to suppress your immune system. Your doctor will be able to tailor your treatment to address your symptoms.

As the disease progresses, more damage to your kidneys will occur. If kidney failure results, you may need dialysis to remove toxins from your blood. Dialysis will clean your blood when your kidneys are no longer able to do so. You may also undergo a kidney transplant if your kidneys fail.

Acute and chronic nephritis are the most common complications of MPGN. Nephritis is a group of symptoms associated with kidney disease. These symptoms can include:

  • blood in your urine
  • decreased urine output
  • edema
  • blurred vision
  • a cough
  • decreased alertness
  • muscle aches
  • joint pain
  • shortness of breath

High blood pressure may also develop. As the disease progresses, you’ll likely experience chronic kidney failure.

If you have MPGN, your long-term outlook will depend on the severity of your disease and your overall health. You’ll need to talk to your doctor about what you can expect. In some cases, the disease may not progress for many years. You’ll need regular checkups to monitor your health. In other cases, MPGN may resolve without treatment.

Some people will experience a rapid decline in their health. You may develop kidney failure and require dialysis or a kidney transplant. Although a kidney transplant will alleviate the need for dialysis, it’s common to experience a recurrence of MPGN following organ transplant. So, a kidney transplant will not cure the disease. Talk to your doctor to discuss strategies for long-term management.