What is Bright’s Disease?

by Anthony Carter on July 1, 2011


bright's diseaseBright’s disease is a medical term that doesn’t get used very much nowadays. If your doctor tells you that you have Bright’s disease you should be worried – it means that their medical knowledge is at least a century out of date. This was how we once referred to a number of types of kidney disease. These days we are far more likely to refer to these conditions as acute or chronic nephritis. Although this condition no longer exists it is interesting to learn a bit more about it.

Bright’s disease got its name from a much respected English physician called Richard Bright. He gave the condition its name back in 1827, but our understanding of kidney disease has increased greatly since that time. At the time a number of different conditions all fell under this category, but we know are able to distinguish between them.

The Causes of Bright’s Disease

This condition is most often caused by bilateral kidney stones. The fact that these stones appear may be evidence of some underlying kidney problem. The stones are made from a type of salt and nutritional deficiencies may be one of the reasons they appear – in particular lack of vitamin D (more). It is also believed that certain foods increase the likelihood of these stones forming. When these stones form in the kidney they can cause a lot of mischief. They increase pressure in the organ and can interfere with the normal flow of urine. Anything that makes it hard for the body to eliminate waste products is dangerous.

The Symptoms of Bright’s Disease

Bright’s disease included a number of different symptoms including:

  • Intense pain in the lower back and sides
  • Swollen extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Water retention and signs of edema
  • Shortness of breath due to accumulation of fluids on the lung
  • Dark, cloudy, or bloody urine
  • Testicular pain
  • High blood pressure

Even though the condition called Bright’s disease was identified in the early nineteenth century it was a long time before a successful treatment was discovered. The symptoms of this disease were serious and it was usual for patients to die. The most popular treatment at the time of Dr. Bright was bloodletting but this usually had little effect. Acute episodes might be treated by diuretics or laxatives, but in most instances this would not be enough. Later special diets were created that could help alleviate the symptoms.

Back in the nineteenth century all kidney disease was considered to be the same thing and so required the same treatment. This is no longer the case and our increased understanding means that we are now able to prescribe the right type of treatment for each of the different conditions. This means that kidney problems are now far more successfully managed than they were when we once labeled such things as Bright’s disease. Nowadays this name is only of interest because of its historical value. It reminds us of how far we have come in recent years.

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Betty Nichols October 5, 2011 at 2:25 am

My son had Bright’s disease in 1959. The Cr. put him on complete bed rest for most of the year. He got well and is now 58 years old and well. Betty from Maryland

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