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Normal kidney functions occur through numerous cellular processes to maintain body homeostasis. Disturbances in any of these functions can lead to abnormalities that may be detrimental to survival. Clinical manifestations of these disorders depend on the pathophysiology of renal injury and often are identified as a complex of symptoms, abnormal physical findings, and laboratory changes that constitute specific syndromes. These renal syndromes (Table 61-1) may arise from systemic illness or as primary renal disease. Nephrologic syndromes usually consist of several elements that reflect the underlying pathologic processes, typically including one or more of the following: (1) reduction in glomerular filtration rate (GFR) (azotemia), (2) abnormalities of urine sediment (red blood cells [RBCs], white blood cells [WBCs], casts, and crystals), (3) abnormal excretion of serum proteins (proteinuria), (4) disturbances in urine volume (oliguria, anuria, polyuria), (5) presence of hypertension and/or expanded total body fluid volume (edema), (6) electrolyte abnormalities, and (7) in some syndromes, fever/pain. The specific combination of these findings should permit identification of one of the major nephrologic syndromes (Table 61-1) and allow differential diagnoses to be narrowed so that the appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic course can be determined. All these syndromes and their associated diseases are discussed in more detail in subsequent chapters. This chapter focuses on several aspects of renal abnormalities that are critically important for distinguishing among those processes: (1) reduction in GFR leading to azotemia, (2) alterations of the urinary sediment and/or protein excretion, and (3) abnormalities of urinary volume.



Monitoring the GFR is important in both hospital and outpatient settings, and several different methodologies are available. GFR is the primary metric for kidney “function,” and its direct measurement involves administration of a radioactive isotope (such as inulin or iothalamate) that is filtered at the glomerulus into the urinary space but is neither reabsorbed nor secreted throughout the tubule. GFR—i.e., the clearance of inulin or iothalamate in milliliters per minute—is calculated from the rate of appearance of the isotope in the urine over several hours. In most clinical circumstances, direct GFR measurement is not feasible, and the plasma creatinine level is used as a surrogate to estimate GFR. Plasma creatinine (PCr) is the most widely used marker for GFR, which is related directly to urine creatinine (UCr) excretion and inversely to PCr. On the basis of this relationship (with some important caveats, as discussed below), GFR will fall in roughly inverse proportion to the rise in PCr. Failure to account for GFR reductions in drug dosing can lead to significant morbidity and death from drug toxicities (e.g., digoxin, aminoglycosides). In the outpatient setting, PCr serves as an estimate for GFR (although much less accurate; see below). In patients with chronic progressive renal disease, there is an approximately linear relationship between 1/PCr (y axis) and ...

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