Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or lupus) is an autoimmune disease. This means there is a problem with the body's immune system.
Normally, the immune system helps protect the body from infection or harmful substances. But in patients with an autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot tell the difference between harmful substances and healthy ones. As a result, the immune system attacks otherwise healthy cells and tissue.
A kidney biopsy is not used to diagnose lupus nephritis, but to determine what treatment is appropriate.
The goal of treatment is to improve kidney function and to delay kidney failure.
Medicines may include corticosteroids or other medications that suppress the immune system, such as cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate mofetil, or azathioprine.
You may need dialysis to control symptoms of kidney failure, sometimes for only a while. A kidney transplant may be recommended. People with active lupus should not have a transplant because the condition can occur in the transplanted kidney.
How well you do depends on the specific form of lupus nephritis. You may have flare-ups, and then times when you do not have any symptoms.
Some people with this condition develop chronic kidney failure.
Although lupus nephritis may return in a transplanted kidney, it rarely leads to end-stage kidney disease.
Appel GB, Radhakrishnan J, D'Agati V. Secondary glomerular disease. In: Brenner BM, ed. Brenner and Rector's the Kidney. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 31.
Charles Silberberg, DO, Private Practice specializing in Nephrology, Affiliated with New York Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.