Diabetic nephropathy (''nephropatia diabetica''), also known as Kimmelstiel-Wilson syndrome and intercapillary glomerulonephritis, is a progressive kidney disease caused by angiopathy of capillaries in the kidney glomeruli. It is characterized by nephrotic syndrome and diffuse glomerulosclerosis. It is due to longstanding diabetes mellitus, and is a prime cause for dialysis in many Western countries.
The syndrome was discovered by British physician Clifford Wilson (1906-1997) and German-born American physician Paul Kimmelstiel (1900-1970) and was published for the first time in 1936.
The syndrome can be seen in patients with chronic diabetes (15 years or more after onset), so patients are usually of older age (between 50 and 70 years old). The disease is progressive and may cause death two or three years after the initial lesions, and is more frequent in men. Diabetic nephropathy is the most common cause of chronic kidney failure and end-stage kidney disease in the United States. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk. The risk is higher if blood-glucose levels are poorly controlled. Further, once nephropathy develops, the greatest rate of progression is seen in patients with poor control of their blood pressure. Also people with high cholesterol level in their blood have much more risk than others.
The earliest detectable change in the course of diabetic nephropathy is a thickening in the glomerulus. At this stage, the kidney may start allowing more serum albumin (plasma protein) than normal in the urine (albuminuria), and this can be detected by sensitive medical tests for albumin. This stage is called "microalbuminuria". As diabetic nephropathy progresses, increasing numbers of glomeruli are destroyed by nodular glomerulosclerosis. Now the amounts of albumin being excreted in the urine increases, and may be detected by ordinary urinalysis techniques. At this stage, a kidney biopsy clearly shows diabetic nephropathy.
Diabetic nephropathy continues to get gradually worse. Complications of chronic kidney failure are more likely to occur earlier, and progress more rapidly, when it is caused by diabetes than other causes. Even after initiation of dialysis or after transplantation, people with diabetes tend to do worse than those without diabetes.
Possible complications include:
- hypoglycemia (from decreased excretion of insulin)
- rapidly progressing chronic kidney failure
- end-stage kidney disease
- severe hypertension
- complications of hemodialysis
- complications of kidney transplant
- coexistence of other diabetes complications
- peritonitis (if peritoneal dialysis used)
- increased infections
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