What is IgA nephropathy?
IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, is a kidney disease that occurs when IgA deposits build up in the kidneys, causing inflammation that damages kidney tissues. IgA is an antibody—a protein made by the immune system to protect the body from foreign substances such as bacteria or viruses. Most people with IgA nephropathy receive care from a nephrologist, a doctor who specializes in treating people with kidney disease.
How common is IgA nephropathy?
IgA nephropathy is one of the most common kidney diseases, other than those caused by diabetes or high blood pressure. IgA nephropathy can occur at any age, although the first evidence of kidney disease most frequently appears when people are in their teens to late 30s. While found in people all over the world, IgA nephropathy is more common among Asians and Caucasians. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of IgA nephropathy?
The common symptoms of IgA nephropathy are:
- Cola- or tea-colored urine (caused by red blood cells in the urine)
- Repeated episodes of cola- or tea-colored urine, sometimes even visible blood in your urine, usually during or after an upper respiratory or other types of infection
- Pain in the side(s) of your back below your ribs (flank)
- Swelling (edema) in your hands and feet
- High blood pressure
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes IgA nephropathy?
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs located at the small of your back, one on each side of your spine. Each kidney contains tiny blood vessels (glomeruli) that filter waste, excess water and other substances from your blood as they pass through your kidneys. The filtered blood re-enters your bloodstream, while the waste material passes into your bladder and out of your body when you urinate.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an antibody that plays a key role in your immune system by attacking invading pathogens and fighting infections. But in IgA nephropathy, this antibody collects in the glomeruli, causing inflammation (glomerulonephritis) and gradually affecting their filtering ability.
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes IgA deposits in the kidneys, but these conditions or factors may be associated with the development of IgA nephropathy:
- Genes, because IgA nephropathy is more common in some families and in certain ethnic groups
- Liver diseases, including cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces normal tissue within the liver, and chronic hepatitis B and C infections
- Celiac disease, a digestive condition triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in most grains
- Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy, blistering skin disease that stems from gluten intolerance
- Infections, including HIV infection and some bacterial infections
What increases my risk for IgA nephropathy?
There are many risk factors for IgA nephropathy, such as:
- In North America and western Europe, IgA nephropathy affects at least twice as many men as it does women.
- IgA nephropathy is more common in Caucasians and Asians than it is in blacks.
- Family history. In some cases, IgA nephropathy appears to run in families, indicating that genetic factors may contribute to the disease.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is IgA nephropathy diagnosed?
Currently, health care providers do not use blood or urine tests as reliable ways to diagnose IgA nephropathy; therefore, the diagnosis of IgA nephropathy requires a kidney biopsy.
A kidney biopsy is a procedure that involves taking a small piece of kidney tissue for examination with a microscope. A health care provider performs a kidney biopsy in a hospital or an outpatient center with light sedation and a local anesthetic. The health care provider uses imaging techniques such as ultrasound or a computerized tomography scan to guide the biopsy needle into the kidney. A pathologist—a doctor who specializes in examining tissues to diagnose diseases—examines the kidney tissue with a microscope. Only a biopsy can show the IgA deposits in the glomeruli. The biopsy can also show how much kidney damage has already occurred. The biopsy results can help the health care provider determine the best course of treatment.
How is IgA nephropathy treated?
There’s no cure for IgA nephropathy and no definitive way of knowing what course the disease will take. Some people experience complete remission and others live normal lives with low-grade blood or protein in their urine (hematuria or proteinuria).
Treatment with a number of medications can slow the progress of the disease and help you manage symptoms such as high blood pressure, protein in the urine (proteinuria), and swelling (edema) in your hands and feet.
Medications used to treat IgA nephropathy include:
- High blood pressure medications. A common complication of IgA nephropathy is high blood pressure. Taking angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can lower your blood pressure and reduce the amount of protein (albumin) in your urine.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. These beneficial fats, available in dietary fish oil supplements, may reduce inflammation in the glomeruli without harmful side effects. Get advice from your doctor before you start using supplements.
- In some cases, corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, and other potent drugs that suppress the immune response (immunosuppressants) may be used to help protect kidney function. But these drugs can cause a range of serious side effects, such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar, so their benefits must be carefully weighed against the risks.
- Statin therapy. Cholesterol-lowering medications may help to slow damage to your kidneys.
- Mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept). Most studies so far have failed to show a benefit for using this medication, but it has been used successfully in some people who have persistent protein in their urine despite treatment with medications that lower blood pressure.
The ultimate goal is to avoid the need for kidney dialysis or kidney transplantation. But in more advanced cases, dialysis or transplantation may be necessary.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage IgA nephropathy?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with IgA nephropathy:
- Take steps to reduce your blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure levels near normal may help slow kidney damage from IgA nephropathy. Your doctor may recommend healthy changes in your diet — including limiting your salt intake — losing excess weight, being physically active, using alcohol in moderation and remembering to take your blood pressure medications as ways to keep your blood pressure under control.
- Monitor your blood pressure levels at home. Note each reading and bring this record with you to your doctor’s appointments.
- Eat less protein. Reducing the amount of protein you eat and taking steps to decrease your cholesterol levels may help slow the progression of IgA nephropathy and protect your kidneys.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
IgA nephropathy (Berger's disease). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iga-nephropathy/home/ovc-20199316. Accessed September 11, 2017.
IgA Nephropathy. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/iga-nephropathy. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Review Date: September 11, 2017 | Last Modified: September 11, 2017