What Is IGA Nephropathy ?
IgA nephropathy is a kidney disorder that occurs when IgA—a protein that helps the body fight infections—settles in the kidneys. After many years, the IgA deposits may cause the kidneys to leak blood and sometimes protein in the urine.
Many people with IgA nephropathy leak blood in the urine, but this leakage does not mean they will have long-term problems. Others leak both blood and protein in the urine. If too much protein leaks into the urine, the hands and feet can swell. After 10 to 20 years with IgA nephropathy, the kidneys may show signs of damage. About 25 percent of adults with IgA nephropathy develop total kidney failure. Only 5 to 10 percent of children develop total kidney failure. Symptoms of kidney failure include swelling in the hands and feet, nausea, fatigue, headaches, and sleep problems. By the time these symptoms occur, total kidney failure is near. Total kidney failure means the kidney damage is permanent. People with kidney failure need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
How Do People Know That They Have IGA Nephropathy ?
In the early stages, IgA nephropathy has no symptoms. This disease can be silent for years, even decades. The first sign of IgA nephropathy may be blood in the urine. The blood may appear during a cold, sore throat, or other infection. At times, blood in the urine can only be detected by a doctor or nurse using special tests. If the amount of blood increases, urine may turn pink or the color of tea or cola. People who have blood in their urine should see a doctor or nurse, but the condition is not always a sign of a serious disease. For example, heavy exercise can cause blood in the urine.
The course of IgA nephropathy varies considerably from person to person. Some people have the disease for years with few problems; many cases, in fact, may go undiagnosed. Other people develop one or more of the following complications:
- High blood pressure. Damage to your kidneys from IgA deposits can raise your blood pressure.
- Acute kidney failure. If your kidneys lose their filtering ability due to IgA deposits, waste products build up quickly in your blood.
- Chronic kidney failure. IgA nephropathy can cause your kidneys to gradually stop functioning.
- Nephrotic syndrome. This is a group of problems that can be caused by damage to the glomeruli, including high urine protein levels, low blood protein levels (hypoalbuminemia), high cholesterol and swelling of your eyelids, feet and abdomen.
Who Is At Risk For IGA Nephropathy ?
IgA nephropathy can occur at any age, even in childhood. More men are affected than women. Although found all over the world, IgA nephropathy is more common among Caucasians and Asians. It is one of the most common diseases of the kidney, other than those caused by diabetes or high blood pressure.
What Causes IGA Nephropathy ?
Scientists do not know what causes IgA deposits to form in the kidneys. IgA nephropathy may run in families or be related to respiratory infections. No consistent trigger for the disease has Been Found.
How Is IGA Nephropathy Treated ?
Kidney disease usually cannot be cured. When the kidneys are damaged, they cannot be repaired. Treatment focuses on slowing the disease and preventing complications.
One complication is high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Hypertension damages the kidneys. Two types of blood pressure medicines called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) protect kidney function. These medicines not only lower blood pressure but also decrease the loss of protein into the urine. Because of this effect, they are often used in IgA nephropathy to protect the kidneys. They are good medicines but have certain side effects. Pregnant women should not take ACE inhibitors or ARBs because they can damage the unborn baby.
People with IgA nephropathy may develop high cholesterol. By watching their diet and taking medicine, they can help lower their cholesterol level. Lowering cholesterol may help slow kidney damage.
Medicines such as prednisone may help treat IgA nephropathy. Prednisone belongs to a class of medicines called corticosteroids, which can have harmful side effects. In research studies, fish oil supplements containing omega 3 fatty acids also slowed kidney damage in some patients. Vitamin E may help lower protein in the urine but not blood. One of the newer immunosuppressive agents called mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) is also being tested in treating IgA nephropathy.
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