To many of us IgA nephropathy (IgAN) is a disease to be watched and monitored. Most cases of IgAN in which the clinical course is aggressive occur with one of two atypical presentations:
1. Acute kidney injury (AKI) and macroscopic haematuria or
2. Nephritic syndrome or RPGN with a crescentic nephritis on biopsy
The first thing to say is that both of these presentations are rare. Whilst visible haematuria coinciding with mucosal infections is a well-known feature of IgAN, development of coincident acute kidney injury is uncommon. In fact, the largest published case series with this presentation I could find included only 38 patients. With regards to crescentic nephritis, it is instructive that the recently produced Oxford classification of IgAN study found so few patients with a severe crescentic nephritis (median % gloms with crescents 9%) that the authors were unable to include crescents as having “independent value in predicting renal outcome.”
The AKI seen with visible haematuria is often due to tubular injury from intra-tubular erythrocyte casts and a possible direct nephrotoxic effect of haemoglobin. The key issue in these patients is not so much treatment, which is through general supportive measures, but ensuring that protracted or repeated AKI is not due to a crescentic IgAN. As a result, the recently published KDIGO glomerulonephritis guidelines recommend that any patients with known IgA exhibiting AKI and visible haematuria who fail to show improvement of kidney function after 5 days should undergo repeat renal biopsy.
Crescentic IgAN (defined as RPGN with crescents in >50% of glomeruli seen in the biopsy) although rare has a poor prognosis: end-stage renal disease in 75% of one cohort at 10-year follow-up. The KDIGO guidelines suggest on the basis of low quality evidence initial treatment as for ANCA vasculitis with steroids and cyclophosphamide. Interestingly, no suggestion is made for maintenance therapy in these cases.
I have only ever seen a single case of severe crescentic IgAN and no cases of AKI with visible haematuria. However, I think it’s important to know some details about these presentations. In the near future I’ll look at Henoch-Schonlein nephritis and that most thorny of issues in IgAN; who to treat with immunosuppression outside of an RPGN presentation.