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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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What is glomerulonephritis?

What causes glomerulonephritis?

Is glomerulonephritis inherited?

What is glomerulonephritis?

Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease in which there is inflammation of the glomeruli, the tiny filters that remove excess waste and fluids from the blood.[1][2] It may be acute or chronic (coming on gradually), and may occur on its own (primary) or be caused by another condition (secondary).[1] Signs and symptoms may depend on the type and cause of the condition and may include blood in the urine; foamy urine; swelling of the face, eyes, or other body parts; abdominal pain; high blood pressure; fatigue; and/or other symptoms.[1][2] If the condition is severe or prolonged, the kidneys can become damaged.[1] It may be caused by a variety of infections and diseases, and sometimes the cause is unknown. Treatment depends on the cause, type and severity of the condition.[2]
Last updated: 7/17/2012

What causes glomerulonephritis?

A variety of conditions can cause glomerulonephritis (GN), ranging from infections that affect the kidneys to diseases that affect the whole body, including the kidneys. Sometimes the cause is unknown.[1]

Acute GN (a sudden attack of inflammation) may be caused by infections such as strep throat, impetigo, or bacterial endocarditis. Other infections that may cause GN include HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.[1][3] GN may also be caused by immune diseases such as lupus, Goodpasture's syndrome, and IgA nephropathy. Types of vasculitis that may cause the condition include Wegener's granulomatosis and polyarteritis nodosa.[1][3] Chronic GN sometimes develops after an episode acute glomerulonephritis.[1]

In some cases, GN is caused by an inherited condition. One of these is Alport syndrome (also known as hereditary nephritis).[1][3] Individuals with Alport syndrome may also have hearing and/or vision loss.[3] Alport syndrome can have different inheritance patterns depending on the disease-causing gene involved.

To view more information on our Web site about possible genetic causes and/or inheritance of GN, click here.
Last updated: 7/19/2012

Is glomerulonephritis inherited?

Most of the time, glomerulonephritis (GN) is not inherited. It may be caused by a variety of conditions ranging from infections that affect the kidneys to diseases that affect the whole body, including the kidneys.[1] Currently available data suggest that most cases are due to an immunologic response to a variety of things.[4] Sometimes the cause is unknown.[1]

Infrequently, chronic GN runs in families and may be inherited. One known inherited form, Alport syndrome, may also involve hearing or vision impairment.[1] Alport syndrome may be inherited in several ways depending on the disease-causing gene. Some complement deficiencies (which affect the body's immune response), which may be inherited, can predispose affected individuals to membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis.[5] Another example of an inherited cause of GN is dominant intermediate Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease E (CMTDIE), which may also be referred to as Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy with focal segmental glomerulonephritis.[6]

There have been several reports of seemingly familial cases of GN in the medical journals. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) is an online catalog of human genes and genetic disorders; each entry summarizes the information that has been published in medical journals. Although this database is designed for professionals, OMIM may be helpful to anyone looking for comprehensive information. Because the information in OMIM is complex, you may benefit from discussing it with a medical professional. To view the search results containing genetics resources for GN in the OMIM catalog, click here.
Last updated: 7/19/2012

  1. Glomerulonephritis. Mayo Clinic. April 2, 2011; Accessed 7/17/2012.
  2. Glomerulonephritis. PubMed Health. September 20, 2011; Accessed 7/17/2012.
  3. Glomerulonephritis. National Kidney Foundation. 2012; Accessed 7/17/2012.
  4. Patrick Niaudet. Overview of the pathogenesis and causes of glomerulonephritis in children. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; 2012;
  5. R Krishna Chaganti. Complement Deficiencies. Medscape Reference. July 9, 2009; Accessed 7/18/2012.
  6. Cassandra L. Kniffin. CHARCOT-MARIE-TOOTH DISEASE, DOMINANT INTERMEDIATE E; CMTDIE. OMIM. January 30, 2012; Accessed 7/18/2012.