May also be called: Unilateral Hydronephrosis; Bilateral Hydronephrosis; Urinary Obstruction; Swollen Kidneys
Hydronephrosis (hi-dro-ne-FRO-sis) is when one or both kidneys become enlarged because the flow of urine (pee) is backed up or blocked.
Normally, urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder through thin tubes called ureters. But some conditions and obstructions in the urinary tract can block the normal flow of urine or reverse the urine flow. This can cause a buildup of urine in the kidney, leading to hydronephrosis, or swelling of the kidneys. Hydronephrosis can sometimes be diagnosed before a baby is born on prenatal ultrasound.
Hydronephrosis may lead to a urinary tract infection or cause pain in the abdomen. The two main causes of hydronephrosis include blockage of urine flow (which can occur at different points in the urinary tract) and urine reflux (a reversal of urine flow).
Many times, hydronephrosis resolves on its own without treatment. However, if treatment is needed, most causes of hydronephrosis can be resolved with medications or minor surgery.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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