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Ectopic Kidneys

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

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Ectopic Kidneys Glossary
  • abdomen: Also referred to as the belly. It is the part of the body that contains all of the internal structures between the chest and the pelvis.

  • abdominal: in the abdomen, the cavity of this part of the body containing the stomach, intestines and bladder.

  • abnormality: A variation from a normal structure or function of the body.

  • bladder: The bladder is a thick muscular balloon-shaped pouch in which urine is stored before being discharged through the urethra.

  • bone marrow: A soft, reddish substance inside some bones that is involved in the production of blood cells.

  • congenital: Present at birth.

  • diagnosis: The process by which a doctor determines what disease or condition a patient has by studying the patient's symptoms and medical history, and analyzing any tests performed (e.g., blood tets, urine tests, brain scans, etc.).

  • ectopic: Used to describe an organ or body part occurring in a position or form that is not usual.

  • ectopic kidney: Kidney that developed in an abnormal position.

  • gene: The basic unit capable of transmitting characteristics from one generation to the next.

  • infection: A condition resulting from the presence of bacteria or other microorganisms.

  • ions: Electrically charged atoms.

  • kidney: One of two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood and discharge these waste products in urine. The kidneys are located on either side at the level of the 12th ribs toward the back. The kidneys send urine to the bladder through tubes called ureters.

  • kidney stone: A stone that develops from crystals that form in urine and build up on the inner surfaces of the kidney, in the renal pelvis or in the ureters. (Also see nephrolithiasis.)

  • kidneys: One of two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood and discharge these waste products in urine. The kidneys are located on either side at the level of the 12th ribs toward the back. The kidneys send urine to the bladder through tubes called ureters.

  • obstruction: something that obstructs, blocks, or closes up with an obstacle

  • reflux: Backward flow of urine. Also referred to as vesicoureteral reflux (VUR). An abnormal condition in which urine backs up from the bladder into the ureters and occasionally into the kidneys, raising the risk of infection.

  • reflux: Backward flow.

  • renal: Pertaining to the kidneys.

  • stone: Small hard mass of mineral material formed in an organ.

  • ureter: One of two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • ureteral: Pertaining to the ureter. Also referred to as ureteric.

  • ureters: Pair of tubes that carry urine from each kidney to the bladder.

  • ureters: Tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • urge: Strong desire to urinate.

  • urinary: Relating to urine.

  • urinary tract: The system that takes wastes from the blood and carries them out of the body in the form of urine. Passageway from the kidneys to the ureters, bladder and urethra.

  • urinary tract infection: Also referred to as UTI. An illness caused by harmful bacteria, viruses or yeast growing in the urinary tract.

  • urine: Liquid waste product filtered from the blood by the kidneys, stored in the bladder and expelled from the body through the urethra by the act of urinating (voiding). About 96 percent of which is water and the rest waste products.

  • urologist: A doctor who specializes in diseases of the male and female urinary systems and the male reproductive system. Click here to learn more about urologists. (Download the free Acrobat reader.)

  • urology: Branch of medicine concerned with the urinary tract in males and females and with the genital tract and reproductive system of males.

  • uterus: A hallow, muscular organ in the pelvis cavity of females in which the embryo is nourished and develops before birth.

  • vesicoureteral reflux: Also referred to as VUR. An abnormal condition in which urine backs up from the bladder into the ureters and occasionally into the kidneys, raising the risk of infection.

  • VUR: Also referred to as vesicoureteral reflux. An abnormal condition in which urine backs up into the ureters and occasionally into the kidneys, raising the risk of infection.

Ectopic Kidneys Anatomical Drawings

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