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Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis


Frank O'Brien

, MD, Washington University in St. Louis

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2023
Topic Resources

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis is scattered (segmental) mesangial sclerosis that begins in some but not all (focal) glomeruli and eventually involves all glomeruli. It is most often idiopathic but may be secondary to use of heroin or other drugs, HIV infection, obesity, sickle cell disease, atheroembolic disease, or nephron loss (eg, in reflux nephropathy, subtotal nephrectomy, or renal dysgenesis). It manifests mainly in adolescents but also in young and middle-aged adults. Patients have insidious onset of proteinuria, mild hematuria, hypertension, and azotemia. Diagnosis is confirmed by renal biopsy. Treatment is with angiotensin inhibition and, for idiopathic disease, corticosteroids and sometimes other immunosuppressive agents.

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is now the most common cause of idiopathic (or primary) nephrotic syndrome Overview of Nephrotic Syndrome Nephrotic syndrome is urinary excretion of > 3 g of protein/day due to a glomerular disorder plus edema and hypoalbuminemia. It is more common among children and has both primary and secondary... read more among adults in the United States. It is especially common in Black men. Though usually idiopathic, FSGS can occur in association with other factors (secondary FSGS), including medications and illicit drugs (eg, heroin, lithium, interferon alfa, pamidronate, cyclosporine, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [causing analgesic nephropathy Analgesic Nephropathy Analgesic nephropathy is chronic tubulointerstitial nephritis caused by cumulative lifetime use of large amounts (eg, ≥ 2 kg) of certain analgesics. Patients present with kidney injury and usually... read more ]), atheroembolic disease affecting the kidneys, obesity, HIV infection (see HIV-associated nephropathy HIV-Associated Nephropathy HIV-associated nephropathy is characterized by clinical findings similar to those of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis and often biopsy features of collapsing glomerulopathy (a variant of focal... read more HIV-Associated Nephropathy ), and disorders causing nephron loss (eg, reflux nephropathy, subtotal nephrectomy, renal dysgenesis [eg, oligomeganephronia: renal hypoplasia with a decreased number of nephrons]). Familial cases exist.

In FSGS, the glomerular filtration barriers for size and molecular charge are defective, and proteinuria is typically nonselective, affecting high molecular-weight proteins (eg, immunoglobulins) as well as albumin. Kidneys tend to be small.

Overview of Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

Symptoms and Signs of Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

Patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) commonly present with heavy proteinuria, hypertension, renal dysfunction, edema, or a combination. Sometimes the only sign is asymptomatic proteinuria that is not in the nephrotic range. Microscopic hematuria is occasionally present.

Diagnosis of Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

  • Renal biopsy, when possible, with immunostaining and electron microscopy

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is suspected in patients with nephrotic syndrome, proteinuria, or renal dysfunction with no obvious cause, particularly patients who have disorders or use illicit drugs or medications associated with FSGS.

Urinalysis is done and blood urea nitrogen (BUN), serum creatinine, and 24-hour urinary protein excretion or spot urinary protein:creatinine ratio are measured.

Diagnosis is confirmed by renal biopsy Renal biopsy Biopsy of the urinary tract requires a trained specialist (nephrologist, urologist, or interventional radiologist). Indications for diagnostic biopsy include unexplained nephritic or nephrotic... read more , which shows focal and segmental hyalinization of the glomeruli, often with immunostaining showing IgM and complement (C3) deposits in a nodular and coarse granular pattern. Electron microscopy reveals diffuse effacement of podocyte foot processes in idiopathic cases but may show patchy effacement in secondary cases. Global sclerosis may be visible, along with secondary atrophic glomeruli. Biopsy may be falsely negative if areas of focal abnormalities are not sampled.

Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

Treatment of Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

  • Angiotensin inhibition

  • Corticosteroids and sometimes other immunosuppressive agents for idiopathic FSGS

  • Kidney transplantation for patients with end-stage kidney disease

In idiopathic FSGS, a trial of immunosuppressive therapy is indicated if proteinuria reaches the nephrotic range or if renal function worsens, especially if kidney biopsy Renal biopsy Biopsy of the urinary tract requires a trained specialist (nephrologist, urologist, or interventional radiologist). Indications for diagnostic biopsy include unexplained nephritic or nephrotic... read more reveals a tip lesion. In contrast, patients with secondary FSGS, collapsing FSGS, or advanced tubulointerstitial fibrosis on renal biopsy are generally not treated with immunosuppression because they tend to not respond; instead, the primary disorder is treated.

Immunosuppressive therapy

High-dose corticosteroids (eg, prednisone 1 mg/kg orally once a day or 2 mg/kg every other day) are recommended for at least 2 months, although some experts recommend use for up to 9 months. Response rates of 30 to 50% have been reported with prolonged therapy and vary by the histologic classification of FSGS. After a 2-week remission of proteinuria, the corticosteroid is slowly tapered over 2 months. Secondary and familial cases, collapsing FSGS, and advanced tubulointerstitial fibrosis are more likely to be corticosteroid-resistant.

If only slight improvement or relapse occurs with corticosteroid therapy, remission may be induced with a calcineurin inhibitor (eg, cyclosporine or tacrolimus) for at least 6 months. Although calcineurin inhibitors have been studied more than tacrolimus for FSGS, some clinicians prefer tacrolimus because it is commonly used for other glomerular diseases and there is a lower risk of cosmetic side effects (eg, hirsutism, gingival hyperplasia). In selected cases, mycophenolate mofetil may be used as an alternative.

In patients with contraindications to high-dose corticosteroids (eg, diabetes, osteoporosis), a calcineurin inhibitor can be given along with a lower dose of corticosteroids (eg, prednisone 0.15 mg/kg orally once a day).

Prognosis for Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis

Prognosis is poor. Spontaneous remissions occur in < 10% of patients. Renal failure occurs in > 50% of patients within 10 years; in 20%, end-stage kidney disease Chronic Kidney Disease Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is long-standing, progressive deterioration of renal function. Symptoms develop slowly and in advanced stages include anorexia, nausea, vomiting, stomatitis, dysgeusia... read more Chronic Kidney Disease occurs within 2 years despite treatment and is more likely if patients have significant tubulointerstitial fibrosis. The disorder is more rapidly progressive in adults than in children.

The presence of segmental sclerosis consistently at the glomerular pole where the tubule originates (tip lesion) may portend a more favorable response to corticosteroid therapy. Another variant, in which the capillary walls are wrinkled or collapsed (collapsing FSGS, which is typical in association with IV drug abuse or HIV infection), suggests more severe disease and rapid progression to renal failure. Pregnancy may exacerbate FSGS.

FSGS may recur after kidney transplantation Kidney Transplantation Kidney transplantation is the most common type of solid organ transplantation. (See also Overview of Transplantation.) The primary indication for kidney transplantation is End-stage renal failure... read more ; proteinuria sometimes returns within hours of transplantation. Of patients whose transplant was for end-stage kidney disease caused by FSGS, about 8 to 30% lose their graft due to recurrent FSGS; risk is highest in young children, patients who are not Black, patients who develop renal failure < 3 years after disease onset, patients with mesangial proliferation, and patients with repeat transplants when the diagnosis before the first transplant was primary FSGS. Familial forms of FSGS rarely recur after transplantation.

People who use heroin and develop nephrotic syndrome due to FSGS can experience complete remission if they cease taking heroin early in the disease.

Key Points

  • Suspect focal segmental glomerulosclerosis if patients have nephrotic syndrome, proteinuria, or renal dysfunction with no obvious cause, particularly patients who have disorders or use illicit drugs or medications associated with FSGS.

  • When possible, confirm FSGS by renal biopsy with immunostaining and electron microscopy.

  • Consider treatment with corticosteroids and possibly a calcineurin inhibitor (eg, cyclosporine or tacrolimus) or alternatively, mycophenolate mofetil, if FSGS is idiopathic and proteinuria reaches the nephrotic range or renal function worsens.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Eskalith, Eskalith CR, Lithobid
Cequa, Gengraf , Neoral, Restasis, Sandimmune, SangCya, Verkazia, Vevye
Albuked , Albumarc, Albuminar, Albuminex, AlbuRx , Albutein, Buminate, Flexbumin, Kedbumin, Macrotec, Plasbumin, Plasbumin-20
Aluvea , BP-50% Urea , BP-K50, Carmol, CEM-Urea, Cerovel, DermacinRx Urea, Epimide-50, Gord Urea, Gordons Urea, Hydro 35 , Hydro 40, Kerafoam, Kerafoam 42, Keralac, Keralac Nailstik, Keratol, Keratol Plus, Kerol, Kerol AD, Kerol ZX, Latrix, Mectalyte, Nutraplus, RE Urea 40, RE Urea 50 , Rea Lo, Remeven, RE-U40, RYNODERM , U40, U-Kera, Ultra Mide 25, Ultralytic-2, Umecta, Umecta Nail Film, URALISS, Uramaxin , Uramaxin GT, Urea, Ureacin-10, Ureacin-20, Urealac , Ureaphil, Uredeb, URE-K , Uremez-40, Ure-Na, Uresol, Utopic, Vanamide, Xurea, X-VIATE
Deltasone, Predone, RAYOS, Sterapred, Sterapred DS
CellCept, Myfortic
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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