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Nephrotic Syndrome in Adults


Nephrotic syndrome is the kidneys leaking protein into the urine. When this happens, there is not enough protein in the blood. Low protein in the blood allows fluid to leak out of the blood stream and into body tissues.

Nephrotic syndrome is a collection of the following signs:

  • High protein in the urine
  • Low protein in the blood
  • Swelling of body tissues
  • High cholesterol in the blood

Nephrotic syndrome is not a disease itself. It is a set of signs and symptoms that indicate that another disease has damaged the kidneys, and that they are no longer working properly.

Anatomy of the Kidney
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Nephrotic syndrome is caused by damage to tiny filters in the kidneys, called glomeruli. The glomeruli filter waste and excess water from the blood. This forms urine, which reaches the bladder via the ureters. Diseases that damage the glomeruli cause nephrotic syndrome.

Diseases that may lead to nephrotic syndrome include:

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of nephrotic syndrome include:

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


Nephrotic syndrome may cause:

  • Swelling around the following body parts:
    • Feet
    • Ankles
    • Abdomen
    • Hands
    • Face
    • Eyes
  • Weight gain from excess fluids
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor appetite
  • Foamy urine
  • Fatigue


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. High blood pressure may indicate kidney damage. A urine test will show if you have too much protein or any blood in your urine. A blood test will show if your blood contains too much cholesterol and not enough protein.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Biopsy

Imaging studies evaluate the kidney and surrounding structures. This can be done with:

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


Treatment depends on what is causing the nephrotic syndrome. Some cases are treatable with medications, while others lead to kidney failure despite treatment. The underlying cause will be treated, if possible. Steps will be taken to:

  • Adjust your diet to replace protein lost in the urine
  • Use ACE inhibitors to reduce protein loss in some cases
  • Treat edema by restricting salt intake and taking diuretics
  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure with diet, exercise, and medications


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.

Revision Information

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  • National Kidney Foundation

  • Health Canada

  • Kidney Foundation of Canada

  • Nephrotic syndrome. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: Accessed July 12, 2013.

  • Nephrotic syndrome in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 28, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2013.

  • Nephrotic syndrome in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Updated April 19, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2013.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Parkridge Health System does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.