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Nephrotic vs Nephritic Syndrome

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This article provides a very brief overview of nephrotic and nephritic syndrome, to help you differentiate the two conditions. If you want to learn more, you can read our deep dive into glomerulonephropathies.

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Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a condition involving the loss of significant volumes of protein via the kidneys (proteinuria) which results in hypoalbuminaemia. The definition of nephrotic syndrome includes both massive proteinuria (β‰₯3.5 g/day) and hypoalbuminaemia (serum albumin ≀30 g/L). 1

Clinical features

As a result of hypoalbuminaemia, nephrotic syndrome is associated with oedema (due to reduced oncotic pressure), hyperlipidaemia and hypercoagulability.


Symptoms of nephrotic syndrome can include:

  • Peripheral oedema (more common in adults)
  • Facial oedema (more common in children)
  • Frothiness of urine
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Recurrent infections (due to immune dysfunction)
  • Venous or arterial thrombosis (e.g. myocardial infarction, deep vein thrombosis) due to hypercoagulability

Clinical signs

Clinical signs of nephrotic syndrome can include:

  • Oedema (e.g. peri-orbital, lower limb, ascites)
  • Xanthelasma and/or xanthoma
  • Leukonychia
  • Shortness of breath (with associated chest signs of pleural effusion – e.g. stony dullness in lung bases)


Typical findings on urinalysis in the context of nephrotic syndrome include:

  • Proteinuria (protein ++++)
  • Frothy appearance

Nephritic syndrome

Nephritic syndrome is a condition involving haematuria, mild to moderate proteinuria (typically less than 3.5g/L/day), hypertension, oliguria and red cell casts in the urine.

Clinical features


Symptoms of nephritic syndrome can include:

  • Haematuria (can be frank haematuria or microscopic)
  • Oedema (to a lesser extent compared to nephrotic syndrome)
  • Reduced urine output
  • Uraemic symptoms (e.g. reduced appetite, fatigue, pruritus, nausea)

Clinical signs

Clinical signs of nephritic syndrome can include:

  • Haematuria (either visible or detectable on urinalysis)
  • Oedema
  • Hypertension
  • Oliguria (<300mls/day)


Typical findings on urinalysis in the context of nephritic syndrome include:

  • Haematuria (blood +++)
  • Proteinuria (mild – protein ++)
  • Red cell casts – distinguishing feature of nephritic syndrome, form in nephrons and indicate glomerular damage


  1. Nishi S, Ubara Y, Utsunomiya Y, et al; Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for nephrotic syndrome 2014. Clin Exp Nephrol. 2016 Jun20(3):342-70. doi: 10.1007/s10157-015-1216-x. Available from: [LINK]
  2. Dr Colin Tidy. Acute Nephritis. Published: 21st June 2016. Available from: [LINK]


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