This article discusses about a pathological condition of the kidneys caused by inflammation of interstitial tissue. Interstitial tissue is the connective tissue between cells of most of the organs. The interstitial inflammation causing swelling in kidney results in several complications.  This swelling and inflammation of renal (kidney) interstitial tissue often involves the renal tubules. The disease is known as Interstitial Nephritis.  In this article, we will discuss about the various causes, symptoms, and treatments given for Interstitial Nephritis. 

Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

How Is Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN) Defined?

  • Interstitial Nephritis is caused by inflammation and swelling of interstitial connective tissue between renal tubules.1  
  • The main function of the glomerulus of the kidney renal tubule is to filter the blood to remove water, electrolytes and metabolic waste products. 
  • The function of the convoluted tubules in the kidney is to reabsorb water, carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes, which are filtered by glomerulus.   
  • Important filtered organic (protein and carbohydrate) and inorganic (sodium, potassium, chloride and phosphate) substances are reabsorbed by the renal tubule and excess water and metabolic waste are excreted. 
  • Interstitial nephritis can be acute or chronic. 
  • Acute Interstitial Nephritis is the more common form of Interstitial Nephritis in the United States.
  • Swelling of interstitial tissue and renal tubules in the kidney can result in a number of symptoms, which can be moderate to severe.  

Causes of Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

Allergies to Medications-

These adverse drug reactions are more acute in the elderly population and have the potential to cause permanent kidney damage.

  • Acute Interstitial Nephritis is usually caused as a result of an allergic reaction to medications. 
  • There are many medications which can cause Acute Interstitial nephritis, some of them are:
    • Antibiotics- Sulfonamide and methicillin2
    • NSAIDs3
    • Proton pump inhibitors 

Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN) due to Infections

  • Bacterial Pyelonephritis
  • Renal Tuberculosis
  • Fungal Nephritis

Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN) due to Autoimmune Diseases

  • Depleted cell mediated immunity
  • Caused by anti-tubular basement membrane antibodies.
  • Interstitial nephritis is often associated with Immune complex mediated diseases like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Sjogren's Syndrome.

Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN) due to Electrolyte Abnormalities

  • Low potassium
  • Low calcium

Risk Factors for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Elderly Population- Retirees and older individuals are at a greater risk for developing Acute Interstitial Nephritis. 
  • Antibiotic Treatment- Individual taking multiple medications and antibiotics are at risk to develop Interstitial Nephritis.
  • Chronic use of over-the-counter pain medications
  • People who have autoimmune disorders 
  • People suffering from sarcoidosis

Symptoms of Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

The most general symptom of Acute Interstitial Nephritis is decreased urinary output. Some of the other symptoms of Acute Interstitial Nephritis are:

Nonspecific Symptoms of Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Fever
  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Anorexia
  • Nausea and vomiting

Specific Symptoms of Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Hypersensitivity Symptoms
    • Fever
    • Skin Rash
    • Joint Pain
  • Kidney Symptoms
    • Flank Pain
    • Hematuria
    • Weight Gain
    • Swelling and edema
    • Hypertension
  • Confusion

Diagnosis for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

Detailed Physical Examination for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • If a physician is suspicious of a renal dysfunction, then the physician will conduct a detailed physical examination where the affected individual will be asked about family history, medications taken and the frequency of it, since when are the medications being taken etc.
  • Evaluate Fluid Retention- 
    • Peripheral Edema
    • Pleural Effusion
  • Evaluate Autoimmune Symptoms-
    • Joint Pain
    • Joint Swelling
    • Fever
    • Skin Rash

Lab Studies for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Blood Examination
    • CBS
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
    • Electrolytes
    • BUN and creatinine
    • Blood gases
  • Urine Examination
    • Urine analysis
  • Evaluate Autoimmune
  • Kidney Radiological Studies
  • Renal Biopsy

Treatment for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

Eliminate the Cause-

  • Discontinue antibiotics causing the interstitial nephritis
  • Discontinue over the counter medication
  • Discontinue pain medications and NSAIDs,

Symptomatic Treatment for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Restrict Salt- Restricting salt from diet also helps with water retention and hypertension.  
  • Water
  • Protein Diet- A low-protein diet is also very helpful in order to improve renal function.
  • Salt

Corticosteroid or Cyclophosphamide Treatment-4

  • Interstitial nephritis caused by autoimmune disease responds to corticosteroids. Large dose is tried during initial phase and small dose is used as maintenance dose. 

Renal Dialysis for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Hyperkalemia not responding to diet control and medications
  • Mental Status Change- Mental status may change because of electrolyte or fluid imbalance. One of the treatments is to correct causative factors. Rapid correction is necessary to prevent permanent brain damage.

Kidney Transplant for Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Treatment of End Stage Renal Disease

Prognosis of Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN)

  • Generally Acute Interstitial Nephritis is of a short duration. Only in rare instances doe it cause a permanent damage to the kidneys.
  • Acute Interstitial Nephritis is found to be more severe in elderly and causes more damage in the elderly population.
  • Appropriate timely correction of electrolyte and fluid imbalance prevents permanent kidney damage.


1. Pathogenesis of tubular interstitial nephritis.

Tanaka T1, Nangaku M.

Contrib Nephrol. 2011;169:297-310. doi: 10.1159/000314577. Epub 2011 Jan 20.

2. Renal and electrolyte complications associated with antibiotic therapy.

Kasama R1, Sorbello A.

Am Fam Physician. 1996 Jan;53(1):227-32.

3. Acute nonoliguric renal failure in children associated with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents.

Schaller S1, Kaplan BS.

Pediatr Emerg Care. 1998 Dec;14(6):416-8.

4. Management of acute renal failure in the elderly. Treatment options.

Mandal AK1, Baig M, Koutoubi Z.

Drugs Aging. 1996 Oct;9(4):226-50.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: November 6, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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