Background: Idiopathic membranous nephropathy (IMN) is the most common cause of nephrotic syndrome in adults. Although its clinical course is usually benign, some patients develop chronic renal failure. Combination of corticosteroids with cytotoxic drugs and cyclosporin have been used in the treatment of the disease. Conflicting results are reported with the use ofprednisolone and azathioprine. In this study, the effect of treatment with prednisolone and azathioprine and the parameters related to a poor outcome over a follow-up period of 10 years is estimated.
Methods: 50 patients were included in this study; 33 were treated with prednisolone (initially 60 mg/day) and azathioprine (initially 2 mg/kg body weight/day) in gradually reduced doses for 26 +/- 9 months, whereas 17 patients received no immunosuppressive drugs. The clinical course was estimated using the end-points of doubling of baseline serum creatinine and/or end-stage renal failure (ESRF). The contribution of clinical and histological parameters in the clinical outcome was examined by univariate and multivariate analyses.
Results: Doubling of baseline serum creatinine was observed in 20 of 50 patients (40%), 14 from treated and 6 from the untreated group (42% vs. 35%, p=NS). ESRF developed in 10 of 50 patients (20%), 7 from treated and 3 from the untreated group (21% vs. 18%, p=NS). Most patients from both groups who reached the end-points had impaired renal function at presentation and persistent nephrotic syndrome during the follow-up period. Both parameters were identified as independent risk factors related to an unfavorable clinical outcome. No difference in the remission rate of nephrotic syndrome was observed between treated and untreated patients (51% vs. 58%, p=NS).
Conclusion: Treatment with prednisolone and azathioprine seems to be of no long-term benefit in ameliorating the clinical course of nephrotic patients with membranous nephropathy. Thus, other therapeutic regimens including cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil or cyclosporin should be used in nephrotic IMN patients with poor prognostic features.