The onset, symptoms, progression, and severity of Alport syndrome can vary greatly from one person to another due, in part, to the specific subtype and gene variant present. Some individuals may have a mild, slowly progressive form of the disorder, while others have earlier onset of severe complications.
The first sign of kidney disease is Blood in the urine (hematuria). Hematuria is usually not visible to the naked eye, but can be seen when the urine is examined under a microscope. This is referred to as microscopic hematuria. Sometimes, blood may be visible in the urine (i.e. the urine may be brown, pink, or red) for a few days, usually when an affected individual has a cold or the flu. This is referred to as an episode of gross hematuria. Males with XLAS usually exhibit persistent microscopic hematuria early in life. About 95% of females with XLAS syndrome have microscopic hematuria, but it may come and go (intermittent). Both males and females with ARAS develop hematuria during childhood. Males and females with ADAS also have hematuria.
With time many affected individuals exhibit elevated levels of albumin and other proteins in the urine (albuminuria and proteinuria), which are indications that kidney disease is progressing. The next stage in progression is gradual loss of kidney function, frequently associated with high blood pressure (hypertension), until, ultimately, the kidneys fail to work (end stage renal disease or ESRD). The kidneys have several functions including filtering and excreting wastes products from the blood and body, creating certain hormones, and helping maintain the balance of certain minerals in the body such as potassium, sodium, chloride, and other electrolytes. A variety of symptoms can be associated with ERSD including Weakness and fatigue, changes in appetite, puffiness or swelling (edema), poor digestion, excessive thirst and frequent urination.
As noted above, the rate of progression of kidney disease varies greatly. Many males with XLAS develop ERSD by their teen-age years or early adulthood, although some will not develop kidney failure until their 40s or 50s. Most females with XLAS do not develop kidney insufficiency until later in life. Kidney failure is less common than in males with XLAS but still a significant risk – about 15% by age 45 and 20-30% by age 60.
Progressive Hearing loss (sensorineural deafness) occurs frequently in people with Alport syndrome. Sensorineural deafness results from impaired transmission of sound input from the inner ears (cochleae) to the brain via the auditory nerves. The Hearing loss is bilateral, meaning it affects both ears. Diminished hearing is usually evident by late childhood in males with XLAS although it may be mild or subtle. In males with XLAS the frequency of Hearing loss is approximately 50% by age 15, 75% by age 20 and 90% by age 40. Hearing loss is progressive and may require hearing aids as early as the teen-age years. Hearing aids are typically very helpful in people with deafness caused by Alport syndrome.
The onset, progression and severity of Hearing loss in Alport syndrome varies greatly due to, in part, the specific genetic variant present in each individual. Hearing loss in females with XLAS occurs less frequently than in males and usually occurs later in life, although a smaller percentage of females will develop Hearing loss in their teen-age years. Both males and females with ARAS develop hearing loss, usually during late childhood or early adolescence. Individuals with ADAS may develop hearing loss, although this occurs much later during life, usually as older adults.
Individuals with Alport syndrome may also develop abnormalities in several parts of the eyes including the lens, retina and cornea. Eye abnormalities in XLAS and ARAS are very similar in presentation. Eye abnormalities are uncommon in ADAS.
Anterior lenticonus is a condition in which the lenses of the eyes are shaped abnormally, specifically the lens bulges forward into the space (anterior chamber) behind the cornea. Anterior lenticonus can result in the need for glasses and sometimes leads to cataract formation. Anterior lenticonus occurs in about 20% of males with XLAS and often becomes apparent by late adolescence or early adulthood.
The retina, which is the nerve-rich, light-sensitive membrane that lines the back of the eyes, may also be affected, usually by pigmentary changes caused by the development of yellow or white flecks superficially located on the retina. These changes do not appear to affect vision. Rare patients develop progressive thinning of the retina that can result in holes (macular holes) that can impair vision.
The cornea, which is the clear (transparent) outer layer of the eyes, may also be affected, although the specific abnormalities can vary. The effects on the cornea may be slowly progressive. Recurrent corneal erosions in which the outermost layer of the cornea (epithelium) does not stick (adhere) to the eye properly may occur. Recurrent corneal erosions can cause discomfort or severe eye pain, an abnormal sensitivity to light (photophobia), blurred vision, and the sensation of a foreign body (such as dirt or an eyelash) in the eye. Posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy may also occur. Effects on the cornea may be slowly progressive. Both eyes may be affected; one eye can be more severely affected than the other. In severe cases, posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy can cause swelling (edema) of a specific layer of the cornea, photophobia, the sensation of a foreign body (such as dirt or an eyelash) in the eye, and decreased vision.
Additional symptoms can occur in certain individuals with Alport syndrome. In a small number of males, aneurysms of the chest or abdominal portions of the aorta, the main artery that carries blood away from the heart, have occurred. Aneurysms occur when the walls of blood vessels balloon or bulge outward, potentially rupturing causing bleeding within the body.