What Is Nephrotic Syndrome in Children?

Childhood nephrotic syndrome is a group of symptoms that indicate kidney damage resulting from the release of too much protein into the urine from the body. This protein is called albumin, and it indicates there is inflammation or damage in the kidneys.

Children with nephrotic syndrome may have:

  • High albumin levels in the urine
  • Low protein levels in the blood
  • Edema/tissue swelling, especially in the abdomen
  • Excess fluid that causes weight gain
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Less urine production
  • Low sodium levels

Causes of Nephrotic Syndrome in Children

Most children with this syndrome have idiopathic nephrotic syndrome, meaning there is no known cause. For some, nephrotic syndrome is caused by a congenital abnormality present at birth. The outcome for congenital nephrotic syndrome is poor.

Symptoms of Pediatric Nephrotic Syndrome

Children with this syndrome may have different symptoms, which can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Decreased hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling in the belly or face
  • Foamy urine
  • Body fluid buildup
  • Pale fingernails
  • Dull hair
  • Food intolerance/allergies

It’s important that you take your child to see their doctor for a diagnosis, because symptoms of nephrotic syndrome can be similar to many other conditions.

Diagnosing Nephrotic Syndrome

If your child’s health care provider suspects nephrotic syndrome, they will perform a medical exam and take a health history and may order tests such as:

  • Urine test. This test checks protein levels in the urine.
  • Blood tests. These tests check for cholesterol and albumin (a blood protein).
  • Renal ultrasound. This noninvasive, painless test is done by placing a device over the belly called a transducer. It produces images on the screen of the kidneys to check for growths, kidney stones, cysts, or other problems.
  • Renal biopsy. A small sample of kidney tissue is looked at under a microscope.

Treatment of Nephrotic Syndrome in Children

Depending on your child’s symptoms, age and overall health, treatment varies.

Medication to reduce swelling may treat the initial symptoms. Such medications may include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Diuretics

Some children need to spend time in the hospital to monitor their swelling, or if they have blood pressure or breathing difficulties. Ourpediatric nephrology experts provide excellent care for children who need to remainin the hospital for monitoring.

Many children will have relapses of nephrotic syndrome. Typically, most children go in remission once they reach adolescence, and most of the time, symptoms do not recur in adulthood.

In rare cases, children with nephrotic syndrome require dialysis if they develop kidney failure. This procedure filters waste and extra fluid from the blood when the kidneys can no longer carry out this function independently.

Sometimes nephrotic syndrome gets better on its own, or conversely, it can get worse despite treatment. Family support is crucial for the child’s wellbeing.

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Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
Children's Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at RWJUH
200 Somerset Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
The Unterberg Children's Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center
300 2nd Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 923-7250

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