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Overview of Kidney and Urinary Tract Birth Defects

By

Ronald Rabinowitz

, MD, University of Rochester Medical Center;


Jimena Cubillos

, MD, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
Click here for the Professional Version
Topic Resources

Birth defects are more common in the kidney and urinary system (urinary tract) than in any other system of the body. Defects can develop in the

Each kidney continuously produces urine, which then drains through the ureter into the bladder at a low pressure. From the bladder, urine drains through the urethra to exit the body. In males, the urethra is located in the penis. In females, the urethra ends in the vulvar area (the area of the external female genital organs). Usually, urine is free of bacteria and other infectious organisms.

A Look Inside the Urinary Tract

A Look Inside the Urinary Tract

Did You Know...

  • Birth defects are more common in the kidneys and urinary system than in any other systems of the body.

Complications of urinary tract defects

Urinary tract defects may

Urinary reflux usually happens when defects involve the junction where a ureter connects to the bladder. Normally the junction allows urine to flow only one way, from the kidneys to the bladder. Defects of the junction can allow urine to flow backward from the bladder into the kidney (urinary reflux). In addition, other defects that block the flow of urine can increase the pressure in the bladder and cause urinary reflux. Reflux can affect one side or both sides.

Symptoms of Kidney and Urinary Tract Birth Defects

Many urinary tract defects cause no symptoms and are often discovered only when imaging studies are done for other reasons, or during a well-child examination Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants Healthy infants should be seen by their doctor often during the first year of life. Preventive health care visits (also called well-child visits) typically take place within a few days after... read more Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants . Some kidney defects do not cause problems or become known until adulthood.

When urinary tract defects do cause symptoms, children may have

Children who have urinary obstruction are also at increased risk of significant urinary bleeding after a minor injury because the kidney is under pressure.

Diagnosis of Kidney and Urinary Tract Birth Defects

  • Before birth, prenatal ultrasonography and blood tests

  • After birth, imaging tests and sometimes cystoscopy

  • Sometimes voiding cystourethrography

After birth, if doctors suspect a child has a urinary defect, they typically do imaging tests such as ultrasonography Ultrasonography There are a variety of tests that can be used in the evaluation of a suspected kidney or urinary tract disorder. (See also Overview of the Urinary Tract.) X-rays are usually not helpful in evaluating... read more , computed tomography Computed tomography There are a variety of tests that can be used in the evaluation of a suspected kidney or urinary tract disorder. (See also Overview of the Urinary Tract.) X-rays are usually not helpful in evaluating... read more (CT), nuclear scans Nuclear Scans of the Digestive Tract Nuclear scans are tests that involve the use of harmless radioactive materials (see Radionuclide Scanning). The radioactive materials are ingested as part of a meal or in a drink or are given... read more , and magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic resonance imaging There are a variety of tests that can be used in the evaluation of a suspected kidney or urinary tract disorder. (See also Overview of the Urinary Tract.) X-rays are usually not helpful in evaluating... read more (MRI). Sometimes, doctors do intravenous urography Intravenous urography There are a variety of tests that can be used in the evaluation of a suspected kidney or urinary tract disorder. (See also Overview of the Urinary Tract.) X-rays are usually not helpful in evaluating... read more or cystoscopy Cystoscopy A doctor can diagnose some disorders of the bladder and urethra (for example, bladder tumors, stones in the bladder, benign prostatic enlargement) by looking through a flexible viewing tube... read more . In cystoscopy, doctors look inside the bladder and urethra through a flexible viewing tube called a cystoscope (a type of endoscope).

As children grow, these tests may be repeated at scheduled intervals to assess how the bladder, ureters, urethra, and kidneys are developing or functioning.

Treatment of Kidney and Urinary Tract Birth Defects

  • Sometimes surgery

Defects that cause symptoms or those that lead to increased pressure in the kidneys or bladder usually need to be surgically corrected.

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