Thin-basement-membrane nephropathy, also called benign recurrent hematuria, is characterized by diffuse thinning of the glomerular basement membrane and by hematuria. To determine the incidence of thin-basement-membrane nephropathy among patients with idiopathic hematuria, we conducted a prospective study in the nephrology units of three large hospitals in the Netherlands. Eighty normotensive adults without azotemia underwent renal biopsy because of recurrent macroscopic hematuria (n = 26) or persistent microscopic hematuria (n = 54). Idiopathic IgA nephropathy was found in 27 of the 80 patients. Light microscopical examination showed that 42 patients had normal renal tissue. The remaining 11 patients had mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis (n = 5), interstitial nephritis (n = 3), or focal global glomerulosclerosis (n = 3). Tissue from the 42 patients whose renal biopsy specimens were normal when examined with light microscopy was analyzed morphometrically with electron microscopy to determine the thickness of the glomerular basement membrane. Two subsets of patients were identified by this analysis. In 18, thin-basement-membrane nephropathy was found (mean basement-membrane thickness [+/- SE], 191 +/- 28 nm; normal, 350 +/- 43 nm); all but one of these 18 patients had microscopic hematuria, which persisted during follow-up (median duration, 50 months). (Of the 54 patients who presented with microscopic hematuria, 17 [31 percent] had thin-basement-membrane nephropathy.) The thickness of the glomerular basement membrane was normal in the other 24 patients (361 +/- 69 nm); during follow-up, hematuria disappeared in all 13 of these patients who had macroscopic hematuria, and hematuria resolved in 5 of the 11 patients who had microscopic hematuria. We conclude that in patients with persistent microscopic hematuria, the incidence of thin-basement-membrane nephropathy is similar to that of idiopathic IgA nephropathy. Morphometric analysis of the thickness of the glomerular basement membrane should be included in the workup of adults with persistent microscopic hematuria that is not of urologic origin.