An Overview of Goodpasture Syndrome

Medically Reviewed By Nick Villalobos, MD

Goodpasture syndrome is a rare autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks tissues in the lungs and kidneys. People with this condition may experience fatigue, difficulty breathing, bloody urine, or high blood pressure. Goodpasture syndrome can be life threatening, but there are treatments available to manage it. Doctors may prescribe medications or recommend procedures such as plasmapheresis or dialysis.

Read on to learn more about Goodpasture syndrome, including its causes, symptoms, and management.

What is Goodpasture syndrome?

A woman sleeping on a couch
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Goodpasture syndrome occurs when the body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack basement membranes. These are sheets of tissue that surround many organs.

In the kidneys, the condition leads to inflammation of the glomeruli, or the tiny sacs that filter waste. In the lungs, it affects air sacs called alveoli.

Goodpasture syndrome may also be called Goodpasture disease or anti-glomerular basement membrane (anti-GBM) disease.

Some experts Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source differentiate between Goodpasture syndrome and Goodpasture disease. They may refer to Goodpasture syndrome to describe lung and kidney damage and Goodpasture disease if circulating anti-GBM antibodies are involved.

However, other experts consider these diseases to be one condition under the umbrella term “anti-GBM antibody disease.”

Goodpasture syndrome is very rare, affecting fewer than 5,000 people in the United States. White people, people between the ages of 20–30 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , and people over age 60 are more likely to develop the condition.

What causes Goodpasture syndrome?

The exact cause of Goodpasture syndrome is unknown. However, experts think it may be due Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Certain proteins are found in many people with Goodpasture syndrome. These can include the protein HLA-DR15, which is involved in immune system reactions

Goodpasture syndrome is very rare but sometimes develops after a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu. In addition, you may be more likely to develop it if you:

  • smoke
  • inhale cocaine
  • are exposed to certain chemicals, such as those used in dry cleaning
  • take certain medications, such as alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

Exposure to gasoline, kerosene, tar, or asphalt can also be associated with Goodpasture syndrome.

What are the signs and symptoms of Goodpasture syndrome?

In its early stages, the symptoms of Goodpasture syndrome may include:

As the condition progresses, other signs and symptoms can develop, including:

Without treatment, the lungs can hemorrhage, which may be fatal.

If the kidneys are damaged, signs and symptoms may include:

In younger people, the lungs and kidneys are often involved Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source simultaneously. In older adults, only signs and symptoms relating to the kidneys may be present.

Goodpasture syndrome can progress Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source quickly. However, when detected early, treatment can help address symptoms.

An illustration showing a glomerulus in the kidney
Medical illustration by Wenzdai Figueroa

How do doctors diagnose Goodpasture syndrome?

A kidney biopsy is considered to be the gold standard Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source for diagnosing Goodpasture syndrome. However, if you are unable to undergo a biopsy, doctors can also perform other tests, including:

  • blood tests to assess cell counts and look for circulating anti-GBM antibodies
  • urine tests to check for blood or protein in the urine
  • kidney function tests
  • imaging tests to check for lung or kidney damage
  • lung function tests

What are the treatments for Goodpasture syndrome?

One of the main treatments Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source for Goodpasture syndrome is a procedure called plasmapheresis. This involves removing harmful antibodies from the plasma in the blood and replacing them with healthy plasma.

Doctors may also prescribe Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source immunosuppressants, such as cyclophosphamide, to reduce immune system activity. Steroids, such as prednisone (Deltasone), can help decrease inflammation.

If the kidneys are damaged, dialysis can remove waste from the body. In severe cases, doctors may consider a kidney transplant. Intubation may also be necessary if respiratory failure occurs.

What is the outlook for people with Goodpasture syndrome?

The outlook for people with Goodpasture syndrome has improved with the development of better treatment methods. The 5-year survival rate for people with the condition is now ove Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source r Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source 80% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Less than 30% of people need long-term dialysis.

Your outlook may be less favorable if you experience bleeding in the lungs or respiratory failure. If Goodpasture syndrome is diagnosed early and bleeding does not develop, the outlook is generally more favorable.

Learn 8 tips for coping with dialysis.

Survival rate refers to the number of people who are still alive for a specific length of time after a particular diagnosis. 

For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that half of the people are still alive at least 5 years after diagnosis. 

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on previous medical studies. Talk with your doctor about the outlook for your specific condition.

What are some potential complications of Goodpasture syndrome?

Without treatment, Goodpasture syndrome can lead to serious complications.

For example, severe kidney inflammation can result in kidney failure. If the lungs begin to bleed, respiratory failure can occur.

Receiving prompt diagnosis and treatment is the best way to prevent these complications.

Summary

Goodpasture syndrome is a rare condition caused by an atypical autoimmune reaction. It causes the body to produce antibodies that mistakenly attack tissues in the kidneys and lungs.

If detected early, medication can help treat symptoms. Although the body usually stops producing the antibodies, the condition can last for years.

Goodpasture syndrome can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. If it leads to bleeding in the lungs, it can be fatal. However, most people recover with proper treatment.

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage Goodpasture syndrome.

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Medical Reviewer: Nick Villalobos, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Jun 7
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