Nephrotic syndrome is a collection of symptoms which occur because the tiny blood vessels (the glomeruli) in the kidney become leaky. This allows protein (normally never passed out in the urine) to leave the body in large amounts.
The glomeruli (a single one is called a glomerulus) are tiny tufts of capillaries (the smallest type of blood vessels). Glomeruli are located in the kidneys, where they allow a certain amount of water and waste products to leave the blood, ultimately to be passed out of the body in the form of urine. Normally, proteins are unable to pass through the glomerular filter. Nephrotic syndrome, however, occurs when this filter becomes defective, allowing large quantities of protein to leave the blood circulation, and pass out or the body in the urine.
Patients with nephrotic syndrome are from all age groups, although in children there is an increased risk of the disorder between the ages of 18 months and four years. In children, boys are more frequently affected; in adults, the ratio of men to women is closer to equal.
Causes and symptoms
Nephrotic syndrome can be caused by a number of different diseases. The common mechanism which seems to cause damage involves the immune system. For some reason, the immune system seems to become directed against the person's own kidney. The glomeruli become increasingly leaky as various substances from the immune system are deposited within the kidney.
A number of different kidney disorders are associated with nephrotic syndrome, including:
minimal change disease or MCD (responsible for about 80% of nephrotic syndrome in children, and about 20% in adults) MCD is a disorder of the glomeruli
The first symptom of nephrotic syndrome is often foamy urine. As the syndrome progresses, swelling (edema) is noticed in the eyelids, hands, feet, knees, scrotum, and abdomen. The patient feels increasingly weak and fatigued. Appetite is greatly decreased. Over time, the loss of protein causes the muscles to become weak and small (called muscle wasting). The patient may note abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. Because the kidneys are involved in blood pressure regulation, abnormally low or abnormally high blood pressure may develop.
Over time, the protein loss occurring in nephrotic syndrome will result in a generally malnourished state. Hair and nails become brittle, and growth is stunted. Bone becomes weak, and the body begins to lose other important