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Symptoms and Signs of Nephrotic Syndrome

Doctor's Notes on Nephrotic Syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disorder that results in protein lost in the urine (proteinuria) due to leaks in the filtering system of the kidney. Symptoms and signs of nephrotic syndrome may include

The causes of nephrotic syndrome are numerous and variable. Almost any problem (such as trauma to the kidneys, certain drugs, diseases, or genetic makeup) that causes or allows damage to the glomeruli of the kidney can cause nephrotic syndrome. Primary causes (kidney diseases like focal glomerulosclerosis) and secondary causes are underlying problems. Examples include diabetes, lupus, heroin use, and genetic mutations (for example, congenital focal glomerulosclerosis). Treatments vary. Treating the underlying cause is the usual approach, like the use of immune-suppressing drugs for autoimmune diseases, but symptom reduction treatments may also be done such as swelling reduction by using diuretics. Each person is different. Your doctor should perform individual treatments.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2019

Nephrotic Syndrome Symptoms

The first sign of nephrotic syndrome in children is swelling of the face. In adults, it can be dependent edema. The signs and symptoms of nephrotic syndrome may include the following:

  • Facial swelling
  • Dependent edema (for example, ankle swelling)
  • Foamy urine (due to protein in urine)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Generalized edema (manifestation of fluid in tissues)
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Ascites
  • Pleural effusions
  • Hypercoagulability

Nephrotic Syndrome Causes

In general, any problem, drug, disease, or genetics that cause or allow damage to the glomeruli of the kidney can cause nephrotic syndrome. Primary causes include kidney diseases like membranous nephropathy and focal glomerulosclerosis. Secondary causes include diabetes, lupus, amyloidosis, and heroin use. Mutations of genes that code for several proteins (for example, congenital and hereditary focal glomerulosclerosis) in kidney cells may also cause the disease. Nephrotic syndrome can be of several types: acute (kidney injury), chronic (genetic cause), idiopathic (unknown cause), steroid sensitive or resistant, and types that frequently relapse.

Diabetes How Blood Sugar Levels Affect Your Body Slideshow

Diabetes How Blood Sugar Levels Affect Your Body Slideshow

Your kidneys have to work hard to process all that extra sugar in your blood. When they can't keep up, your body gets rid of it, along with water that your body needs.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.