Hydronephrosis is the dilation or swelling of kidneys because of a blockage that stops urine from flowing out of the body. The blockage may take place in any part of the urinary tract. Hydronephrosis can be cured, depending on the cause. Complications include urinary infections, high blood pressure, kidney failure, and dehydration.
In children, the blockage is often due to abnormalities such as narrowing or pinching of the urethra (the tube taking urine from the bladder to outside the body). Narrowing at the opening of the ureters (the tubes carrying urine from the kidneys to the bladder) can cause a blockage.
In adults, causes often include kidney stones, enlarged prostate gland, and prostate cancer. Other causes are cancers of the bladder, uterus, ovary, and colon that spread to other parts of the body and block the flow of urine.
Symptoms depend on the cause.
- People with kidney stones may have blood in the urine and severe pain in the side that travels to the groin.
- Men with prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate may have problems urinating, need to urinate at night, and be unable to completely empty the bladder.
- People with colon cancer may see blood in the bowel movements or change in bowel movements.
In addition to the physical exam, the health care provider will make a diagnosis with:
- Blood and urine tests to check the kidney function.
- Special x-rays such as ultrasonography or computed tomography (CT).
Treatment depends on the cause, with the goal to get rid of the blockage. The kidney can return to normal, depending on how long the blockage has been there; whether problems such as infections, stones, or other causes of the blockage are also present; and how severe the blockage is.
- For a sudden obstruction, as in men with enlarged prostate glands, a catheter is put through the urethra into the bladder. The catheter gives temporary and instant relief of symptoms until medicine or surgery can be used for more complete therapy.
- People with kidney stones are usually treated with medications for pain control and increasing fluid intake. Shock wave treatment (lithotripsy) or surgery can be done to remove the stones, if they are too large to pass on their own.
- Understand that hydronephrosis is not a disease but the result of many different diseases.
- Realize that the longer hydronephrosis remains untreated, the more kidney function is lost.
- Get advice from a urologist if hydronephrosis is found.
- Call your health care provider if you have abdominal or flank pain or blood in the urine.
- Contact your health care provider if you see a drop in your urine output or you cannot urinate.
- Hydronephrosis can occur in both children and adults.
- Do not miss follow-up health care provider appointments.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider.