A girl with facial swelling

[pic from Thyolo] A 14 yearl old schoolgirl is referred from Thyolo District Hospital, Malawi, complaining of facial swelling for 3 weeks, worse in the morning.  3 days later she developed bilateral leg swelling and increasing abdominal distension with some suprapubic colicky pains.  She reported concentrated urine but no haematuria.  There was no significant past medical history but 1-2 weeks previous to her symptoms she was treated for malaria when she had a fever.  Anaemia was noted at that time and she was given Albendazole and ferrous sulphate.  A week before admission she was treated for vaginal discharge with Gentamicin 240mg IM one dose, and a course of Doxycycline and Metronidazole.  She had also taken some herbal medicines for her symptoms.

She now complains of feeling ill, anorexia, and is vomiting once or twice a day.

Her father works on a tea estate as a labourer.  The family can afford 3 meals a day.

On examination she was unwell but not distressed, appeared well nourished.  Temperature 36.5C, pulse 96, BP 168/94, respiratory rate 16.  She had pale conjunctivae and facial oedema that she said was improved.  Pedal oedema had also mostly resolved.  There were no skin lesions or rash.  Throat was normal and she had no lymphadenopathy.  Her JVP was not elevated. Heart sounds were normal.  There was evidence of some ascites but again this seemed to be improved.

Urine dipstick showed blood 3+, protein 3+, and was negative for leucocytes and nitrite

Before showing results, what syndrome does she have?  What do you think the diagnosis is likely to be?

Case contributed by Emmanuel Mwabutwa

Show test results

  • HIV test negative
  • Pregnancy test negative
  • Hb 5.3 (MCV 70), wbc 4.3, plats 170
  • Creatinine was 19.3 mg/dl (1700 micromol/l) 3 days ago, having risen from 15.3 mg/dl (1350 micromol/l) 4 days previously.
  • Ultrasound showed kidneys to be normal in size but bright in echo pattern.  It confirmed ascites.  A cardiac echo showed a 1.6cm pericardial effusion but normal ejection fraction (76%) and appearances. The right atrium and hepatic veins were dilated.

Now write what you think and what you'd do

Show what the experts thought?

She has acute nephritic syndrome – fluid retention, hypertension (BP very high for a 14 year old) and renal impairment with strongly positive dipstick tests for haematuria and proteinuria.  These confirm glomerular disease.

The most likely diagnosis is classic post-infectious glomerulonephritis.  The normal kidney size and lack of left ventricular hypertrophy support an acute condition, rather than an exacerbation of something chronic.

She also has severe anaemia with microcytosis suggesting iron-deficiency.  Anaemia is frequent in the population and can be multifactorial related to malaria, diet, or other factors.

Her renal impairment is severe and life-threatening.  We do not have a potassium result.  Usually post-infectious glomerulonephritis in children resolves spontaneously, and there are probably many sub-clinical cases. At its most severe, dialysis may be required, but good recovery is still usual.  Even severe cases can usually be managed conservatively:

  • Diet:  Limit salt intake (about zero is right if they are oedematous and hypertensive); limit potassium intake
  • Restrict protein intake but provide plenty of calories.  Oedema can hide severe wasting
  • Loop diuretics relieve fluid retention in all but the most severe cases, and improvement in fluid balance improves blood pressure, though additional measures may be required.

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