Most people are born with two kidneys, which are located in the back of the abdominal cavity on either side of the body covered by the ribs. But factors can occasionally interfere with the development of the kidneys as is the case for people with ectopic kidneys. The following information will help you talk to your urologist when your condition, or that of your child, belongs to this family of diseases.
What happens under normal conditions?
The kidney is the organ whose principal function is to filter toxins from the blood and maintain an appropriate chemical environment so that the body's other organ systems can function properly. Other functions that the kidneys serve include maintaining appropriate blood pressure and ensuring that enough red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. As a child develops in its mother's uterus, the kidneys are formed lower in the abdomen and gradually ascend to their final position as they develop.
What is an ectopic kidney?
Renal ectopia or ectopic kidney describes a kidney that is not located in its usual position. Ectopic kidneys are thought to occur in approximately one in 900 births, but only about one in 10 of these are ever diagnosed. Some of these are discovered incidentally, such as when a child or adult is having surgery or an X-ray for a medical condition unrelated to the renal ectopia. Ectopic kidneys can be located anywhere along the path of their usual ascent from where they initially form to where normal kidneys lie in the upper abdomen. Simple renal ectopia refers to a kidney that is located on the proper side but is in an abnormal position. Crossed renal ectopia refers to a kidney that has crossed from the left to the right side (or vice versa) so that both kidneys are located on the same side of the body. These kidneys may or may not be fused. It is important to note that renal ectopia is frequently associated with congenital abnormalities of other organ systems.
What are the symptoms of an ectopic kidney?
The function of the kidney itself is generally not abnormal to begin with, but because of the change in the usual anatomic relationships, the kidney may have difficulty draining. Up to 50 percent of ectopic kidneys are at least partially blocked. Over time, obstruction can lead to serious complications, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones and kidney failure. Ectopic kidneys are also associated with vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a condition where urine backs up from the bladder through the ureters into the kidneys. Over time, VUR can lead to infections that also can destroy the kidney. Interestingly, the non-ectopic kidney can also have functional abnormalities such as obstruction or VUR.
The most common symptoms related to the ectopic kidney that lead to diagnosis include urinary tract infections, abdominal pain or a lump that can be felt in the abdomen.
What are some treatment options for ectopic kidney?
Treatment for the ectopic kidney is only necessary if obstruction or vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) is present. If the kidney is not severely damaged by the time the abnormality is discovered, the obstruction can be relieved or the VUR corrected with an operation. However, if the kidney is badly scarred and not working well, removing it may be the best choice.
What can I expect after treatment for ectopic kidney?
It is possible to live a normal life after removal of a kidney provided that the remaining kidney functions well.
Reviewed: January 2011
Last updated: March 2013