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Kidney diseases and words

From EdREN, the website of the Renal Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Contact us at

Most kidney diseases are explained very briefly here, including quite rare ones. Links to further information are provided wherever possible. Words used in kidney medicine are also explained.


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  Acidosis the result of the kidneys not being able to get rid of enough acid, or losing excessive bicarbonate in the urine, is accumulation of acid in the blood - acidosis.
Acute renal failure, ARF when the kidneys stop working suddenly, or over a period of days to weeks. Usually it is hoped that they can be started up again, but that depends on the cause.
Agenesis renal agenesis is failure of a kidney to grow and develop. It is quite common for this to occur on one side so that an adult will only have one kidney. See solitary kidney.
Albumin a protein that is present in the blood in large quantities. It appears in urine if the kidneys are leaking protein, and can be measured in the urine and in the blood to show how severe a protein leak is (see nephrotic syndrome, below). Can also be low in the blood in some other conditions.
Alport syndrome

an inherited condition that causes kidney failure and deafness. Further information

The normal GBM (left) and the GBM in Alport syndrome (right)

Amyloidosis there are several types of amyloidosis but almost all can cause kidney damage. They often cause nephrotic syndrome but may go on to cause renal failure. Dialysis-related amyloid is an unusual kind that sometimes occurs after many years of kidney failure.
Analgesic nephropathy kidney disease caused by taking large quantities of painkillers over months to years. Less common since phenacetin was removed from over-the-counter painkillers in most countries.
ANCA Antibodies to Neutrophil Cytoplasm Antigens - a blood test that is helpful in the diagnosis of vasculitis
Angiogram, angiography tests to show blood vessels - usually by X-ray, sometimes by MRI (magnetic resonance imaging. Further information
Angioplasty stretching of a narrowing in an artery. Often combined with placing a stent in the narrowing to hold it open. Further information
Anti-GBM disease see Goodpasture's disease (below)
Anti-phospholipid syndrome a condition where there is a tendency to block small blood vessels. Sometimes occurs as part of lupus, but may also occur alone. The kidneys are sometimes affected, but many other organs may be involved. Also known as Hughes' syndrome
APD automated peritoneal dialysis - see peritoneal dialysis.
ARF acute renal failure - see above
Atheroemboli in diseased arteries, bits can fly off and block small blood vessels in the kidney and elsewhere. Usually happens after tubes have passed inside arteries but sometimes without obvious cause. The same as cholesterol emboli
Australia antigen an old test for hepatitis B, which caused several serious outbreaks in renal units in the early decades of dialysis
Bartter syndrome a rare inherited disease that causes low blood pressure because the kidneys leak excessive amounts of salt into the urine. Usually diagnosed in infancy. Gitelman syndrome is similar.
Benign familial haematuria a usually harmless condition that causes small amounts of blood to appear in the urine (haematuria) and tends to run in families. Often caused by Thin GBM Disease (see below). More information is available on haematuria.
Berger's disease another name for IgA nephropathy (see below)
Biopsy taking a sample of something (eg the kidney) to help with diagnosis. Further information about what a kidney biopsy involves is available
Blood pressure is very commonly high in kidney diseases, and may damage the kidneys further. Further information
Bone disease see osteodystrophy
Brescia-Cimino fistula an artery in the forearm (near the wrist) is joined to a vein, to allow a large vein to develop that can be used for haemodialysis.
Calciphylaxis an uncommon but dangerous problem for dialysis patients, when skin dies because of calcification in small blood vessels (uraemic arteriolopathy). May occur in patients with inadequate control of phosphate by diet and 'phosphate binders'
Cholesterol emboli See atheroemboli  
Chronic pyelonephritis see Reflux nephropathy (below).
Chronic renal failure the kidneys are not working perfectly and this shows up on blood tests. There may be no symptoms from this until quite late on - further information is available
Chronic renal insufficiency the same as Chronic Renal Failure (see above)
Conservative management management of renal failure without dialysis. Either before end stage renal failure (below), or as an alternative to dialysis. Further information on 'no dialysis'
Contraception in patients with kidney diseases may need particular care. Further information
Creatinine a molecule made in the body and put out in urine. Measurement of creatinine in blood gives a useful guide to how well the kidneys are working. See Normal Kidneys and Blood Tests
Creatinine clearance a measure of how much creatinine (see above) is coming out in the urine. Gives a fairly accurate guide to how well the kidneys are working even when damage is only slight, but requires accurate 24h collection of urine. See Normal Kidneys.
Crescentic nephritis

very rapidly developing Glomerulonephritis (see below) which can have one of a few important causes. Kidney damage can often can be reversed by prompt treatment. Further information

A normal glomerulus (left) and one with a crescent (right)

CRF, CRI see Chronic Renal Failure (above)
CVVH, CVVHD Continuous veno-venous haemofiltration/ haemodialysis. These are very slow treatments that are used almost continuously to replace kidney function in patients who are in severely ill in hospital, usually in an intensive care unit.
Cystitis infection of the urine in the bladder. Further information
Cysts in the kidneys if there are just one or two simple, fluid-filled cysts they are not usually a serious problem - many people have these without knowing. If there are many cysts, it could be polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Further information

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  Dense deposit disease a type of mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis (MCGN).
Diabetes insipidus instead of the usual kind of diabetes in which there is too much sugar in the blood, this means producing a lot of urine because the kidneys cannot control the amount of urine normally. May be inherited or caused by other things.
Diabetic nephropathy kidney disease developing because of diabetes (the common type of diabetes, sugar diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus). Further information
Dialysis a process used to replace kidney function artificially. Further information
Diets for kidney diseases diet is often an important part of the treatment of kidney diseases. Further information
Dysuria pain as you pee, felt just where the urine comes out. Cystitis (see above) is the most common cause. Urethritis causes the same.
E.coli O157 a bug that can cause bloody diarrhoea and sometimes a severe kidney disease known as HUS (see below). A common cause of acute kidney failure in children.
Edema Edema is the US spelling of Oedema (below)
ESRD or ESRF End Stage Renal Disease or End Stage Renal Failure - kidney failure that is likely to cause someone to die within weeks or months. Treatment options
ESWL lithotripsy (below).
Fabry disease a rare inherited disease that can cause kidney disease and many other things. Further information from the NKF; Further information from a pharmaceutical company.
Fanconi syndrome a rare disorder caused by damage to the renal tubules, and leading to excessive losses of minerals and other substances in the urine. It may be an inherited disease or caused by damage to the kidney caused by some toxins and by myeloma (below)
Fibrillary nephritis a rare type of glomerulonephritis (see below) in which very tiny fibres accumulate in the glomerulus. Its cause is not known and it is difficult to treat.
Fistula a connection between two things that are not usually joined together. In kidney disease this usually refers to the deliberate joining of an artery to a vein, to allow a large vein to develop that can be used for haemodialysis, as in a Brescia-Cimino fistula (see above).
Floating kidney this diagnosis was made quite frequently in the 1800s and earlier as an explanation for various symptoms. Few people now think that it is a common disorder, or even a real one. Further information (from The Lancet) - search the journal for an alternative view, using 'floating kidney' as a search term.
FSGS Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis. This is a type of glomerulonephritis that can cause nephrotic syndrome and other kidney disease. Further information

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GBM - Glomerular basement membrane the thin structure between blood and urine in the filtering units (glomeruli) of the kidney. A variety of GBM disorders exist, including anti-GBM disease (Goodpasture's disease, see below). Further information on GBM disorders is available
GFR - Glomerular filtration rate a measure of how well the kidneys are working. Further information on tests of kidney function
Gitelman syndrome like Bartter syndrome, but usually milder and diagnosed in adults. Low blood magnesium levels are often a problem.
Glomerular filtration rate a measure of how well the kidneys are working. Can be measured by injecting a small amount of a radioactive substance and seeing how fast it disappears, or by other methods. See Normal Kidneys.
Glomerulonephritis inflammation of the glomeruli (below). May be caused by a number of different conditions.
Glomerulus one of the tiny filtering units of the kidney. Each kidney contains about one million. See Normal Kidneys. The plural is glomeruli.
Goodpasture disease

a rare disease in which the kidney and the lungs are attacked by the body's own immune system. Also known as anti-GBM disease. Further information and more detailed information is available.

A glomerulus lit up by binding anti-GBM antibodies in Goodpasture disease
Goodpasture syndrome usually this means the same as Goodpasture's disease (see above), but sometimes it is used to refer to people with lung haemorrhage and renal disease caused by other things - usually vasculitis (see below)
Haematuria blood in the urine. Further information
Haemodialysis one type of dialysis treatment. May be abbreviated to HD. See also information on haemodialysis itself.
Haemofiltration an alternative to dialysis in which filtration alone is used. Usually restricted to hospitals as a slow treatment (CVVH). May be abbreviated to HF. Haemodiafiltration (HDF) is a cross between the two.
Haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) see HUS (below)
Hematuria North American spelling of Haematuria (see above)
Henoch-Schonlein purpura a condition in which there is a rash affecting the legs (sometimes elsewhere), abdominal pains, and blood in the urine. It is common in children. The kidney disease is a type of vasculitis (below), usually mild and not requiring treatment. May be more severe when it affects adults.
Hepatitis a virus infection that affects the liver. Some important types (hepatitis B and C) are spread by blood, and have caused serious problems in dialysis units in various parts of the world. Further information on hepatitis B outbreaks
Hepatorenal syndrome kidney failure that sometimes occurs when there is severe liver disease.
Hypernephroma the most common type of kidney cancer in adults
Hypertension high blood pressure. Further information on high blood pressure in kidney disease
HUS Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome - a disease affecting kidneys and blood, sometimes caused by infection by infection with E.coli O157. TTP is a similar condition. Further information on these conditions

when the collecting system draining urine out of the kidney into the ureter is stretched out by a blockage to urine flow through the ureter or bladder. Can usually be diagnosed by ultrasound or CT scan. If occurs for a long time, permanent kidney damage may result. Further information on normal kidneys, ultrasound and CT scans

Hypoplasia renal hypoplasia is underdevelopment of a kidney. Like agenesis of a kidney, it is quite common. If it occurs on both sides, there will be renal failure.

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  IgA nephropathy

the most common type of glomerulonephritis. Sometimes called Berger's disease. Further information

IgA in a glomerulus
Interstitial nephritis inflammation in the kidney that doesn't involve the glomeruli. Often caused by a reaction to medicines, either prescribed or bought over the counter (particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDS). Further information
Intravenous urography, IVU intravenous pyelography (IVP) is the same thing. An X-ray test used to show up the ureters and bladder and identify kidney stones. An injection is required. Further information

Jugular venous pressure (JVP)

kidney doctors examine the veins in the neck frequently, as this can show how 'full' the circulation is with fluid.
Kolff kidney the first artificial kidney that really worked. Further information on the history of dialysis.
Kt/V ("Kay-Tee over Vee")  a measurement used in haemodialysis to see check that enough dialysis is being provided. For those receiving haemodialysis three times each week, it should be 1.2 or higher, unless they still have some useful function from their own kidneys.
 Lithotripsy in full, External Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). Used to destroy kidney stones (see below)
Loin pain haematuria syndrome a condition in which blood in the urine is accompanied by pain in the region of the kidneys. It is not fully understood. Further information
 Lupus a condition causing inflammation in many parts of the body, sometimes affecting the kidneys. Further information is available about Lupus, and about Lupus affecting the kidney
Malignant hypertension a very severe type of high blood pressure in which there can be serious damage to kidneys, eyes and brain. Further information
Medullary sponge kidney

a condition causing kidney stones, with small cavities in the centre of the kidney that can be seen on some X-rays.

Membranous nephropathy

a common cause of nephrotic syndrome in adults. Further information

proliferative glomerulonephritis

see Mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis.
Mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis MCGN a type of glomerulonephritis that often causes high blood pressure and renal failure. There are a number of causes. Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis is the same condition.
Microscopic polyangiitis (MPA) a common type of vasculitis (see below)
Minimal change disease a common cause of nephrotic syndrome, especially in children Further information
Myeloma a blood disease that can cause kidney disease and renal failure. Myeloma is a type of cancer of white blood cells, but it often responds to treatment. Further information

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  Nail patella syndrome a rare inherited disease in which kneecaps are missing, thumbnails are funny, and kidney disease sometimes occurs. Further information
Nephropathy this is a word that just means kidney disease
Nephrotic syndrome When the kidneys leak a lot of protein into the urine. Causes oedema (see below) and other complications. Further information
Nutcracker syndrome the vein from the left kidney is obstructed by one of the major arteries leaving the aorta. It can cause blood to appear in the urine (haematuria, see above), and occasionally is thought to cause other symptoms. It is a rare cause of haematuria.
Obstruction and obstructive nephropathy

when the drainage of urine is blocked at any point. Can cause serious kidney damage if the obstruction is not relieved within days or weeks. Obstruction causes the collecting system of the kidney to blow out, hydronephrosis (see above). More information on obstructive nephropathy.

Oedema visible accumulation of fluid, often in the ankles and legs, sometimes in other parts of the body. In kidney disease, oedema may be caused by nephrotic syndrome (see above), or it may be a sign of generalised fluid accumulation (see jugular venous pressure).
Oliguria not passing enough urine for the kidneys to do their work. Usually means less than 500mls per day.
Osteodystrophy renal osteodystrophy is the bone disease that occurs in people with kidney disease. It can be prevented or treated by control of diet, vitamin D, and other things. More information on bone problems.
Osteoporosis thin bones. Can occur in kidney disease, but bone trouble in kidney disease is usually more complicated (see osteodystrophy, above). A side effect of treatment with steroids such as prednisolone.
Page kidney squeezing of the kidney so that it doesn't work. Most likely to happen with a transplant kidney, or in American football apparently. Originally Page wrapped cellophane around a kidney to show that it could happen (1939).
PD - Peritoneal dialysis one of the forms of dialysis treatment. See also information on peritoneal dialysis itself.
Phosphate a chemical in the blood that is often not controlled well enough by dialysis alone. Control of how much goes into the body is important, by diet and by taking 'phosphate binders'. Further information
Polyarteritis a type of vasculitis (see below). Microscopic polyangiitis (MPA, previously known as microscopic polyarteritis) commonly affects the kidneys. Polyarteritis nodosa is much less common and rarely causes serious kidney disease.
PKD - Polycystic kidney disease a common inherited kidney disease. Further information and more detailed information is available.
Polydipsia excessive thirst. Can be caused by kidney disease, but there are other causes, most importantly diabetes.
Polyuria excessive urine production. Can be caused by kidney disease, but there are other causes, most importantly diabetes.
Post-infectious glomerulonephritis a type of glomerulonephritis (see above) that usually follows a sore throat or other infection caused by Streptococcus, causing high blood pressure, fluid retention, and poor kidney function. Once very common, now much less common in Western countries. Usually affects children and young people, and generally recovers nearly completely.
Pregnancy in patients with kidney diseases may need particular care. Further information
Prostate a gland that sits below the bladder in men. It may grow big and block the free flow of urine, or develop cancer. Further (detailed) information from the NIDDK (USA).
Prune belly syndrome a congenital disease in which the bladder and ureters do not work properly, and there is a deficiency of muscle in the front of the abdomen. Sometimes causes kidney failure
PUJ obstruction blockage at the top of the ureter (the pelvi-ureteric junction), cause usually unkown. Causes hydronephrosis (see above). Corrected by the operation of pyeloplasty.
Pyelonephritis infection within the kidney. A complication of urinary tract infection.
Pyeloplasty see PUJ obstruction
Q is there no kidney thing beginning with Q?

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  Rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis the same as crescentic nephritis, see above
Reflux nephropathy

scarring of the kidneys that is often found in early childhood along with backward flow of urine up the ureters. Further information


Renal tubular acidosis acidosis that is caused by the kidneys leaking bicarbonate into the urine. Acidosis occurs although overall kidney function appears quite good. Causes a number of problems, kidney stones (see below) for one.
Renogram a test to show kidney shape or function using a small amount of a radioactive material that is concentrated in the kidney or put out into urine.
Retroperitoneal fibrosis Inflammation that involves the ureters and cause a blockage - obstruction. May be caused by an aneurysm (swollen artery), or the cause may be unknown.
RPGN Rapidly Progressive GlomeruloNephritis - see above
Sarcoidosis a cause of inflammation in the lungs that sometimes affects the kidney too. Further information
Schonlein-Henoch purpura see Henoch-Schonlein purpura (above)
Scleroderma scleroderma is a condition in which the skin is thickened in various places. In some people it affects much more than just skin (systemic sclerosis), and sometimes (rarely) the kidneys are seriously affected. This often occurs quite suddenly (scleroderma renal crisis) Severely raised blood pressure is usually a part of the condition, so that it can be like malignant hypertension. It can usually be effectively treated. Further information
Shunt medically, this means an abnormally short or artificial connection between two things, for instance between an artery and a vein. In kidney disease it usually means a deliberate connection with plastic tubing between an artery and a vein to permit connection to a dialysis machine. The invention of the Scribner shunt permitted treatment of patients with chronic renal failure by dialysis in the 1960s.
Sjogren's syndrome an autoimmune disease in which dry eyes and mouth are typical. Sometimes affects the kidneys. Further infomation
SLE Systemic Lupus Erythematosus - see Lupus
Solitary kidney Having just one kidney - because one has been removed, or because of renal agenesis. Read further information from the NKF.
Stones nasty hard things that cause pain and bleeding into urine. Further information
Systemic lupus erythematosus see Lupus (above)
Systemic sclerosis see Scleroderma (above)
Systemic vasculitis see vasculitis (below)
Thin GBM disease causes blood to appear in the urine (haematuria) but very rarely seems to cause serious trouble. Often the cause of benign familial haematuria (see above). Further information on diseases of the GBM
Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura see TTP (below)
Transplant see PUJ obstruction
TTP Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura - a disease affecting kidneys and blood. It is similar to Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) - see there for further information.
Tuberous sclerosis an uncommon inherited disorder in which lumps (tubers) form in various parts of the body. Occasionally the kidneys are badly affected.
Tubules the tubes joined onto each glomerulus (filtering unit) in the kidney, in which most salt and water is reclaimed for use in the body. See Normal Kidneys

a commonly used, simple and safe method of showing the size and shape of the kidneys. Further information


an ultrasound picture of a normal kidney
Uraemia the symptoms caused by having kidney failure (for example, "she is uraemic".
Urea a small molecule made in the body as a waste product from protein. Measurement of urea in blood gives some guide to how well the kidneys are working, and how much protein is being broken down from protein in the diet and from muscle. Further information. It is also used to test how well dialysis is working - see Urea Reduction Ratio.
Urea reduction ratio (URR) URR for short, is a measurement used in haemodialysis to see check that enough dialysis is being provided. For those receiving haemodialysis three times each week, it should be 65% or higher if there is no remaining kidney function. 70% is better.
Ureter the tubes joining each kidney to the bladder (usually one on each side). Further information
Urethra the tube joining the bladder to the outside. Further information
Urethral valves blockages to urine flow down the ureter. Usually present at birth and found in infancy. There may be serious kidney damage as a result.
Urethritis inflammation of the urethra, causing pain when passing urine (dysuria). Usually caused by simple infections, as in cystitis, but sometimes has other causes. In men may be a symptom of sexually transmitted infection.
URR  Urea Reduction Ratio - see above.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) infection anywhere from the kidneys to the urethra - most commonly cystitis (in the bladder). Further information
Vasculitis inflammation of blood vessels. This causes some serious kidney diseases. More detailed information is available.

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  Wegener's granulomatosis

a type of vasculitis that commonly affects the kidneys.

Wilm's tumour


a type of kidney cancer that sometimes affects young children.


Witholding and withdrawing dialysis


appropriate in some circumstances. Further information




transplanting an organ from an animal into a human. It's science fiction really, not likely to be useful to patients in the near future.




nothing yet beginning with these letter


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Acknowledgements:  The authors of this page were Gemma Browne and Neil Turner. It was first published in August 2001. The date is was last modified is shown in the footer.


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This page last modified 16.11.2010 09:49 by Emma Farrell. edren and edrep are produced by the Renal Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. CAUTIONS and Contact us.