Bright's Disease - Kidney Disease

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Bright’s disease is a historical term that is not currently in use. It referred to a group of kidney diseases - in modern medicine, the condition is described as acute or chronic nephritis.

This article is intended to cover the historical relevance of Bright’s disease, in addition to the characteristic signs and symptoms that were used in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Historical Relevance

The disease was named after Richard Bright, who was the first to describe the symptoms in 1827. He described 25 patient cases involving dropsy, which is now commonly referred to as edema, and linked them to kidney disease in his Reports of Medical Cases.

Following from this, research conducted by Bright and other physicians noted a link to cardiac hypertrophy, which led to the suggestion that stimulation of the heart was involved.

One notable case of Bright’s disease was that of Arnold Ehret. His condition was diagnosed as incurable by 24 respected doctors in Europe. However, he eventually cured himself of the disease with the design of The Mucusless Diet Healing System.

In Modern Medicine, the term Bright’s disease is no longer in use and is only referenced for historical purposes. This is because the disease is due to a vast range of renal diseases, for which there are no more descriptive terms that can be used.

Signs and Symptoms

The characteristic signs of Bright’s disease were edema and albumin in the urine, which are also a vital part of many renal conditions in Modern Medicine.

The wide range of symptoms that were often reported in patients with Bright’s disease included:

  • Edema
  • Albumin in the urine
  • Hypertension
  • Inflammation of serous membranes
  • Hemorrhages
  • Apoplexy
  • Convulsions
  • Blindness
  • Coma

Additionally, significant signs of disease were noted in the kidneys at autopsy.

Naturally, the methods of diagnosis also differed due to limitations pertaining to technology and medical equipment. For example, the level of albumin in the urine was detected by spoon and candle-heat coagulation, which is unlike  the urinalysis tests in practice today.


In traditional medicine, patients with Bright’s disease were treated with a wide range of techniques such as:

  • Warm baths
  • Dietary changes (e.g. avoidance of alcohol, cheese and red meat)
  • Herbs with diuretic properties
  • Blood-letting
  • Squill
  • Digitalis
  • Mercury
  • Opium
  • Laxatives

The efficacy of these treatment methods varied considerably between each case and the involved factors. This is to be expected, as the term Bright’s Disease was used to describe a broad set of conditions based on hallmark symptoms.

Today these conditions are differentiated at diagnosis to allow physicians to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms and devise an appropriate treatment plan for the case at hand.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 26, 2019

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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  1. Karen Sue Reed Karen Sue Reed United States says:

    My great grandmother, died in 1921 of Bright's Disease. Just wondering if it's hereditary?

    • Elaine Lone Elaine Lone Canada says:

      My grandmother died in 1946 at the age of 46 and I remember my mother telling me it was from 'Brights Disease' an umbrella term to cover a number of kidney ailments. My mother always had issues with her kidneys especially when she got older. Sadly mother passed away five years ago after a surgical procedure (small bowel blockage) as her kidneys started to fail. We were aware of it as the surgeon told us that there was a very real chance that she wouldn't make it due to her kidneys, nephritis. Since our late 20's both my elder brother and I have had kidney problems. The worst so far being kidney stones. I've never looked up whether or not 'Bright's Disease' aka bad kidneys is hereditary but what three generations of my family have gone through because of their kidneys I'd say there's a good chance.

      • Zed Knight Zed Knight United Kingdom says:

        Just an FYI, Brights Disease is not known anywhere as simple "bad kidneys", so AKA there is misleading at best. However, there is a genetic component that can predispose certain people towards health issues relating to the kidneys, so as you correctly assumed you have a hereditary condition that your progeny should also be made aware of. Kind regards.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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