What is lupus nephritis?
Lupus nephritis is one of the most serious complications of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the kidneys, leading to inflammation and possibly to organ damage. Inflammation of the kidneys can harm the ability of the overall renal (kidney) system to properly remove waste from blood, maintain the correct amount of body fluids, and regulate hormone levels for controlling blood pressure and blood volume.
Lupus nephritis most often develops within five years from when lupus symptoms first appear. Symptoms include weight gain, swelling, increase in urination (especially at night), blood and foamy appearance in the urine, and high blood pressure. In its early stages, however, the symptoms of lupus nephritis can go unnoticed. If lupus nephritis is not treated symptoms can get worse and lead to kidney failure. People experiencing serious kidney complications like kidney failure may need either dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Who can develop lupus nephritis?
Studies have shown that over time up to 60% of lupus patients will develop lupus nephritis, including two-thirds of children with lupus. Lupus nephritis is more common in women than in men, and there is an even higher prevalence and severity of the disease among African American, Asian and Hispanic women between 15-44, who tend to develop the disease earlier and experience more serious complications.
Diagnosis and treatment
Getting tested and treated as soon as possible is extremely important. Testing used in evaluating and diagnosing kidney issues include a urine test or urinalysis, blood test, and kidney biopsy. Your doctor or a special doctor called a nephrologist can help you find the right treatment if you have lupus nephritis.
There are medications used to help control the inflammation and reduce kidney damage like immunosuppressive drugs, corticosteroids, and even blood thinning supplements. One drug, Benlysta, has been approved specifically to treat lupus nephritis. Another drug, voclosporin, is currently being evaluated as a treatment for lupus nephritis.
In addition, you can help protect your kidneys by controlling your blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. Every person with lupus is different, make sure to talk to your doctor about the treatment plan that is right for you.