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Nephrotic Syndrome—Adult

Pronounced: Neh-frah-tik sin-drome


Nephrotic syndrome is a group of changes caused by damage to the kidney. Changes may include:

  • Proteinuria—high amounts of protein in the urine
  • Hyperlipidemia—high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Edema—swelling in the body, most often in feet and legs
  • Hypoalbuminia—low levels of a specific protein in the blood

Anatomy of the Kidney

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Nephrotic syndrome is caused by damage to tiny filters in the kidneys. These filters pull waste and extra water from the blood and keep important items like protein in the blood. When the filters are damaged they have trouble doing their job.

The filters can be damage by other medical conditions such as:

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of nephrotic syndrome include:

  • Diabetes
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Exposure to certain drugs or toxins
  • Certain infections

Symptoms    TOP

Nephrotic syndrome may cause:

  • Swelling of feet, ankles, and legs; less often abdomen, hands, and face
  • Weight gain from excess fluids
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor appetite
  • Foamy urine
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. High blood pressure may indicate kidney damage.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests—to look for high cholesterol or low protein levels
  • Urine tests—too look for proteins or blood
  • Kidney biopsy—to look for changes to the kidney

Imaging tests will help your doctor view the kidney and area around it. Test options include:

If your doctor suspects nephrotic syndrome, you may be referred to a kidney specialist.

Treatment    TOP

When possible, the cause of nephrotic syndrome will need to be treated. Sometimes treating the cause will make the syndrome go away. If it cannot be stopped, treatment may help slow the damage.

Other treatment may help decrease the problems caused by nephrotic syndrome. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Changes to your diet to replace protein lost in the urine.
  • Medication such as ACE inhibitors to slow loss of protein .
  • Treat edema by lowering salt intake and medications called diuretics.
  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure with diet, exercise, and medications.

Prevention    TOP

Most conditions that lead to nephrotic syndrome cannot be prevented. However, the risk of type 2 diabetes may be reduced through exercise and weight control.


National Kidney Foundation
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


Kidney Foundation of Canada


Nephrotic syndrome. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 1, 2016.
Nephrotic syndrome in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated March 21, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2016.
Nephrotic syndrome in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated February 2014. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2018 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 2/5/2018

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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