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Metabolic Health

Decoding Hydronephrosis: Unraveling Causes & Relief

When your bladder fails to expel urine properly, your kidneys may swell, resulting in a condition called hydronephrosis. Fortunately, it's easily treatable.

Jun 1, 2024

2 min read

Written by Shayonee Dasgupta
Medically Reviewed by 

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A graphic representation of a swollen kidney against a normal one

Hydronephrosis is a condition where one or both kidneys swell up due to improper drainage of urine.  While this condition can affect anybody, it is more prevalent among women in the 20-60 age group.  In the 60+ age group, men are at a higher risk due to a greater probability of developing prostatic diseases. Dr Vinit Shah, Urologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital And Research Centre, notes, “While some cases do run in families, it is difficult to predict who will be affected as genetic tests are not yet fully understood.”

A graphic representation of hydronephrosis of the kidney

The condition can be chronic or develop suddenly. Depending on the extent of swelling, hydronephrosis is categorised as follows:

  • Mild 
  • Moderate
  • Severe

What are the causes of hydronephrosis?

Causes of hydronephrosis

“Hydronephrosis can develop due to congenital pathology that you are born with or any obstruction in drainage of the urine anywhere in the urinary tract, commonly seen due to kidney stones,” explains Dr Shah.

Other causes of blockages include:

  • Development of blood clots or tumours in the kidney 
  • Narrowing of the urinary tract, either since birth or on account of any surgery
  • Neurological issues that prevent the bladder from emptying itself 
  • Muscular issues causing the urine to flow back to the kidney 

Pelvic organ prolapse and pregnancy may lead to hydronephrosis in individuals with a uterus. A foetus can also have dilated kidneys due to prenatal hydronephrosis.

What are symptoms to watch out for?

Sings and symptoms of hydronephrosis

Hydronephrosis symptoms are not always apparent.

When symptoms show up, they include:

  • Pain in the side of the body, back, or abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in passing urine
  • Less frequent urination
  • Passing cloudy urine or noticing blood in the urine

What to expect during treatment?

Hydronephrosis treatment depends on the underlying cause. Mild cases may not need any treatment and usually resolve on their own.

As part of your hydronephrosis treatment protocol, you may be prescribed medication to fight off any infection and reduce pain. Additionally, procedures may be recommended to drain out the excess urine. In severe instances, surgical intervention may be advised to address the underlying blockage.

Living with hydronephrosis

Can lifestyle or dietary adjustments mitigate hydronephrosis risk? “There are currently no dietetic means of preventing this condition,” says Dr Shah.

Urinary tract infection is often a common complication of hydronephrosis. So, how should one proceed upon diagnosis? “Once diagnosed with hydronephrosis, you should undergo treatment to prevent further accumulation and deterioration of kidney function, which may even lead to irreversible loss of kidney function,” concludes Dr Shah.

Medically reviewed by:

Dr Vikas Bhise, Urologoist

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