Autoimmune Kidney Disease

Kidneys most important function in the body is to act as the filter of the body, remove wastes in the blood and keeping blood cells and protein in the bloodstream. It does this by using a tiny set of looping blood vessels called the glomerulus (plural glomeruli), which are contained in nephrons, the filtering units of the kidneys. In autoimmune kidney disease, the immune system starts to attack the kidneys instead of protecting the body from invading microbes and infection. These glomeruli become inflamed with swelling and scarring, reducing the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the blood, leading to blood and protein to be lost through urine. This is known as glomerulonephritis. The cause is usually unknown, however you may be of increased risk of developing this disease if you have a blood or lymphatic disorder, strep infections, heart infections or abscesses and family history of the disease. A person is also at increased risk if they have certain pre-existing conditions, including systemic lupus erythematosus, Goodpasture syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and amyloidosis.

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the more common symptoms of glomerulonephritis are:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Foamy urine (due to excess protein in the urine)
  • Swelling (edema) of the face, eyes, ankles, feet, legs or abdomen

Some other signs and symptoms include:

  • Blood in the vomit or stools
  • Anaemia
  • Cough and shortness of breath
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive urination
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • General ill feeling, fatigue, and loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure

As these symptoms can be slow to develop, the disease may be identified in a routine visit to your doctor (e.g. high blood pressure).

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease and chronic renal failure may gradually develop.


Treatment is directed to alleviating the symptoms of the presenting individual and their severity, including medication that suppress the immune system and corticosteroids. However, controlling high blood pressure is usually the most important part of treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers. At present there is no cure for autoimmune kidney disease and people with this condition are closely monitored for signs of kidney failure. Dialysis or a kidney transplant may eventually be needed.

The Centre for Personalised Immunology is investigating the genetic causes of this autoimmune disease, to improve treatment and to help find a cure. Read more on how CPI is helping.

Information on this page is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.