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Hydronephrosis of one kidney

Definition

Hydronephrosis is swelling of one kidney due to a backup of urine. This problem may occur in one kidney.

Alternative Names

Hydronephrosis; Chronic hydronephrosis; Acute hydronephrosis; Urinary obstruction; Unilateral hydronephrosis; Nephrolithiasis - hydronephrosis; Kidney stone - hydronephrosis; Renal calculi - hydronephrosis; Ureteral calculi - hydronephrosis; Vesicoureteral reflux - hydronephrosis; Obstructive uropathy - hydronephrosis

Causes

Hydronephrosis (kidney swelling) occurs as the result of a disease. It is not a disease itself. Problems that may lead to hydronephrosis include:

  • Blockage of a ureter due to scarring caused by prior infections, surgeries, or radiation treatments
  • Blockge from an enlarged uterus during pregnancy
  • Birth defects of the urinary system
  • Back flow of urine from bladder to kidney, called reflux
  • Kidney stones
  • Cancers or tumors that occur in the pelvis or abdomen
  • Problems with the nerves that supply the bladder

The blockage and swelling of the kidney may occur suddenly or may develop slowly.

Hydronephrosis in one kidney occurs in about 1 in 100 people.

Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Flank pain
  • Abdominal mass
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Fever
  • Painful urination (dysuria)
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Increased urinary urgency

In some cases, there may be no symptoms.

Exams and Tests

The condition is found on an imaging test such as:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the kidney swelling. Treatment may include:

  • Placing a stent (tube) through the bladder and ureter to allow urine flow in the kidney and bladder
  • Placing a tube into the kidney through the skin, to allow the blocked urine to drain out of the body into a drainage bag
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Surgery to correct the blockage or reflux
  • Removal of any stone that is causing blockage

People who have only one kidney, who have immune system disorders such as diabetes or HIV, or who have had a transplant will need treatment right away.

People who have long-term hydronephrosis may need antibiotics to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Loss of kidney function may occur if the condition is left untreated.

Possible Complications

If hydronephrosis is left untreated, the affected kidney may be permanently damaged. Kidney failure is rare if the other kidney is working normally. However, kidney failure will occur if there is only one functioning kidney.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have ongoing or severe flank pain, or fever, or if you think you may have hydronephrosis.

Prevention

Prevention of the disorders that cause this condition will prevent it from occurring.

References

Frøkiaer J. Urinary tract obstruction. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 38.

Zeidel ML. Obstructive uropathy. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 123.


Review Date: 3/28/2016
Reviewed By: Scott Miller, MD, urologist in private practice in Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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