Hydronephrosis—Child

Definition

Hydronephrosis is when one or both kidneys swell with backed up urine. This swelling can lead to kidney infection or kidney damage.

Hydronephrosis is not a condition but a symptom of another condition.

Urinary Tract System
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Causes

Hydronephrosis is caused by urinary tract problems that makes it difficult for urine to leave the kidneys. Urine may be slowed or blocked by:

  • An obstruction, bulge, or narrowing in the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder
  • In boys, flaps of tissue obstructing the tube that carries urine out of the body or narrowing of the tip of the penis

Other conditions that may cause problems with urine flow include:

  • The backwards flow of urine from the bladder into the kidneys
  • Problems with the tube that carries urine to the bladder or in the way that it connects
  • Occasionally, an abnormal kidney

In most cases, the child is born with one of these conditions that affect the urinary tract. For some, the condition develops later on. Sometimes the cause of hydronephrosis is not known.

Risk Factors

Hydronephrosis is more common in boys than girls.

Symptoms

Hydronephrosis may cause:

  • Pain in the back, sides, abdomen, or groin
  • Blood in the urine
  • Trouble feeding
  • Poor growth
  • Symptoms of urinary tract infection

Diagnosis

Most often hydronephrosis is diagnosed during pregnancy during a maternal ultrasound.

After birth you will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may be able to feel the swollen kidney during the physical exam.

Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests

Imaging tests evaluate bodily structures. These may include:

  • Ultrasound—may be done before and/or after birth
  • Voiding cystourethrogram—x-rays of the bladder and urethra taken during urination
    • Note: This test is only done if there is hydronephrosis still present after birth.
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Cystoscopy

Treatment

Hydronephrosis that develops before birth will often resolve on its own without kidney damage, either before or after birth. Your child's kidneys will be monitored until the swelling has gone away.

When necessary, the condition causing the back up of urine will be treated. Treatment options may include:

Medication

Medications may include:

  • Over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and/or fever
  • Antibiotics to prevent or treat infection

Surgery

If the hydronephrosis is causing painful symptoms, there are signs of kidney damage, and there is a correctable lesion that will not get better on its own surgery may need to be done to allow urine to flow properly. The type of surgery that is done depends on the cause of your child's hydronephrosis. In rare cases, surgery may need to be done before birth.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent hydronephrosis.

Revisions

Please note, not all procedures included in this resource library are available at Allegiance Health or performed by Allegiance Health physicians.

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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