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Home > Services > Kidney Care > Kidney Conditions > Nephrotic Syndrome

Nephrotic Syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome occurs when your kidneys let protein leak into the urine. When this happens, there is not enough protein in the blood, which allows fluid to leak out of the blood stream and into body tissues.

Nephrotic syndrome is not a disease itself. It is a set of signs and symptoms that indicate that another disease has damaged the kidneys and that they are no longer working properly.

Factors that increase your risk of nephrotic syndrome include:

  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Exposure to drugs or toxins
  • Certain infections


Nephrotic syndrome is caused by damage to tiny filters in the kidneys called glomeruli. The glomeruli filter waste and excess water from the blood. 


Diseases that may lead to nephrotic syndrome include:

  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Diabetic nephropathy
  • Membranous nephropathy
  • IgA nephropathy
  • Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis
  • Renal amyloidosis (abnormal protein deposits in the kidneys)
  • Minimal change disease
  • Other diseases, including:
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus
    • Toxins and drugs
    • Allergic reactions
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Renal vein thrombosis
    • Some types of cancer


Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling around the following body parts:
    • Feet
    • Ankles
    • Abdomen
    • Hands
    • Face
    • Eyes
  • Weight gain from excess fluids
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor appetite
  • Foamy urine
  • Fatigue


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam will be done. High blood pressure may indicate kidney damage. Your doctor may order:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Biopsy

Your doctor may also take images of your bodily structures with:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound


Treatment depends on what is causing the nephrotic syndrome. Some cases are treatable with medicine, while others may lead to kidney failure despite treatment. Steps will be taken to:

  • Adjust your diet to replace protein lost in the urine
  • Use ACE inhibitors to reduce protein loss in some cases
  • Treat edema by restricting salt intake and taking diuretics
  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure with diet, exercise and medication


Call 434.243.3675


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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