What Is Hydronephrosis? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:03 What Is Hydronephrosis?
  • 0:39 Causes of Hydronephrosis
  • 1:34 Hydronephrosis Symptoms
  • 2:17 Treatment Options
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Hydronephrosis is a medical condition affecting the kidneys. Read this lesson to learn what the condition is, what causes it, the symptoms it produces, and possible treatment options for those with hydronephrosis.

What Is Hydronephrosis?

You may be surprised to learn that hydronephrosis affects about one of every 500 people in the United States. But what is hydronephrosis? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's take a look at this medical condition. Hydronephrosis occurs when one kidney (you have two) becomes swollen due to the buildup of urine. Urine isn't being properly eliminated from the kidney, usually due to a blockage in the urinary tract. It's important to note that hydronephrosis is not a disease in itself; rather, it's a condition that is usually caused by something wrong elsewhere in the body.

Causes of Hydronephrosis

Hydronephrosis occurs when something blocks one of the ureters. A ureter is a tube that allows urine to drain from your kidney, where it's produced, into the bladder, where it's stored until you urinate. If the ureter gets blocked, urine can't flow through, and it will get held up in the kidney, causing the kidney to swell. This type of blockage is most often the result of an acute unilateral obstructive uropathy, which is a sudden blockage in the ureter. The blockage itself may be a kidney stone, a blood clot, or it could be scar tissue. When these blockages prevent the urine from flowing to the bladder, it gets forced back up to the kidney in a process called vesicoureteral reflux. Other possible causes of hydronephrosis are tumors located on or near the ureter, an impassable kink in the ureter where it meets the bladder, or narrowing of the ureter caused by a birth defect or injury.

Hydronephrosis Symptoms

Initial symptoms of hydronephrosis include feeling like you need to urinate more often. Eventually, the pressure on your kidney can cause permanent damage, and symptoms can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, painful urination, urinary tract infections, and fever. In fact, urinary tract infections are common symptoms of hydronephrosis, so it's helpful to know the symptoms of those too. Urinary tract infections are characterized by cloudy urine, painful or weak urination, back pain, and fever. The excess urine causing the kidney to swell can force the kidney to press up on the surrounding organs, so it's obviously best to take care of this condition as soon as possible.

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