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Nephrotic Syndrome—Adult

How to Say It: Neh-frah-tik sin-drome


Nephrotic syndrome is a disorder of the kidneys. It may result in:

  • High amounts of protein in the urine
  • High cholesterol in the blood
  • Swelling in the body—mainly in the feet and legs
  • Low levels of a certain protein in the blood


Tiny filters in the kidneys remove waste from the blood and makes urine. If they are not working well, wastes and fluids build up in the body.

The most common cause is damage from kidney problems such as:

Other causes are problems that harm the kidneys such as:

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in people who have:

  • Any of the health problems that cause the condition
  • Used certain medicines for a long time
  • Contact with certain toxins
  • Health problems that slow blood flow


Symptoms may be:

  • Swelling of feet, ankles, and legs—less often belly, hands, and face
  • Feeling tired
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Weight gain
  • Foamy urine
  • Breathing problems


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Blood and urine tests will be done to check kidney function. Results can make the diagnosis.

Other tests will be done to look for a cause. You may need to see a doctor who treats kidney diseases.


In some people, nephrotic syndrome goes away on its own. In others, the cause will need to be treated. Options are:

  • Diet changes
  • Medicines to lower:
  • Dialysis to filter blood when the kidneys cannot


The risk may be lowered by managing health problems that can harm the kidneys.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

National Kidney Foundation


Health Canada

The Kidney Foundation of Canada


Kakar S, Kumar V, Singh R. Latest research progress on acute nephrotic syndrome. J Acute Dis. 2017;6:255-259.

Nephrotic syndrome. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/nephrotic. Accessed January 4, 2021.

Nephrotic syndrome in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/nephrotic-syndrome-in-adults. Accessed January 4, 2021.

Nephrotic syndrome in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/nephrotic-syndrome-adults. Accessed January 4, 2021.

Overview of nephrotic syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary-disorders/glomerular-disorders/overview-of-nephrotic-syndrome#v1056004. Accessed January 4, 2021.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD  Last Updated: 1/4/2021