If you are visiting this page, it likely means you or a family member have been diagnosed with lupus nephritis (lupus in the kidney) and you’d like to learn more about the condition.
Lupus nephritis isn’t a complicated condition to understand. This guide will answer all of the frequently asked questions surrounding the condition.
Continue reading to advance your knowledge on lupus nephritis and learn more about how you can cope.
What is Lupus Nephritis?
Lupus nephritis, or simply lupus and kidney disease, is a form of kidney disease that’s caused by lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus).
Lupus is a common, autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system damages its own organs and cells. The disease is characterized by frequent “attacks”, and the patient may have to be hospitalized and treated.
Kidney disease caused by lupus can gradually worsen, leading to complete kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you’ll need either a transplant or constant dialysis treatments to stay alive.
Who Typically is Most Likely to Get Lupus?
Women are much more likely to get lupus than men, especially during childbearing years. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), nine out of ten people who are diagnosed with lupus are women.
Lupus is more common in people of Asian or African descent, who are two times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than Caucasians. In the U.S., 1 out of nearly 250 African American women will be diagnosed with lupus.
How Common is Lupus Nephritis?
Kidney disease is one of the more prevalent health conditions caused by lupus. In adults diagnosed with lupus, five out of ten people will develop kidney disease.
Likewise, in children who are diagnosed with lupus, eight out of ten will eventually develop kidney disease.
What are the Symptoms of Lupus Nephritis?
There are a wide variety of symptoms of lupus nephritis, such as foamy urine. Edema, or swelling that occurs in the feet, ankles, or legs when your body retains excessive fluid, is also a symptom of lupus nephritis.
Furthermore, as a result of lupus nephritis, one may also develop high blood pressure. Generally, kidney issues can arise at the same time lupus symptoms appear.
These common Lupus symptoms are:
- Swelling and joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Regular headaches without a cause
- Butterfly rash (a red rash present on the face, cheeks, and nose)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, either separately or altogether, please call your doctor immediately.
What Tests Do Doctors Conduct to Diagnose Lupus Nephritis?
Healthcare professionals conduct blood and urine tests, as well as a kidney biopsy to diagnose lupus nephritis in their patients.
Upon visiting your doctor, they will obtain a urine sample to detect protein or blood in your urine. Using chemically-treated paper (like litmus paper), it will change color when protein or blood is found in your urine.
If there are high concentrations of blood or protein in your urine, that means you have kidney damage.
Much like the urine test, your doctor will extract your blood to observe how your kidneys are functioning. This test will identify traces of creatinine, which is a normal waste product that exists in your body.
Doctors commonly measure the amount of creatinine in your blood to estimate your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This is important because when kidney disease worsens, the amount of creatinine increases in your blood.
A kidney biopsy is a procedure that entails taking a small sample of kidney tissue for evaluation, usually under a microscope. Using standard imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) scan or an ultrasound, your doctor will perform the biopsy.
During the procedure, you will receive light sedation and numbing medicine to help you relax. Once the sample has been obtained, it will be examined by a pathologist, who will:
- confirm if you have lupus nephritis
- provide consultation on treatment
- Determine which stage the disease is in
It is highly recommended that early diagnosis and proactive actions be taken immediately after the presence of symptoms.
How is Lupus Nephritis Treated?
Over 50 years, groundbreaking research has been obtained to help suppress the effects of lupus. The goal of treatment is to prevent the immune system from attacking itself.
- reduce kidney inflammation
- decrease activity in the immune system
- suppress the immune system cells from attacking the kidneys, or making antibodies to damage the kidneys.
Your doctor may commonly prescribe prednisone, corticosteroid, and standard medicine to keep your immune system under control (mycophenolate, cyclophosphamide, or hydroxychloroquine).
Also, many lupus nephritis patients may have high blood pressure. This means they will need to take medicine to control their blood pressure, including:
- calcium channel blockers
- ARBs and ACE inhibitors
What Should I Eat if I Have Kidney Nephritis?
If you have kidney disease, you may need to change your diet. This means you should speak with a dietician who will guide you on the right path of meal planning and healthy eating.
Eating the right foods can help mitigate the effects of kidney nephritis. If you also have high blood pressure, consuming foods with less sodium intake will help you keep your blood pressure in control.
What are the Complications of Lupus Nephritis?
Fortunately, treatment works well to reduce the effects of lupus nephritis. You may not experience any complications. 10%-30% of people with lupus nephritis develop kidney failure, as treatment options have become more effective in lessening the disease.
However, people with lupus nephritis are at a higher risk of contracting cancer, specifically B-cell lymphoma. This type of cancer begins in the immune system.
People diagnosed with lupus nephritis are at risk of having blood vessel and heart problems. Check with your doctor, as they will constantly monitor your condition to fight these diseases if they do appear.
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