What is an Ectopic Kidney?

A woman sitting down holding her back
  • Ectopic kidneys are considered a rare condition, only affecting about one in 1,000 people.

  • Many people with an ectopic kidney may not experience any symptoms and may remain unaware of the condition.

  • Malformation in the womb is the leading cause of an ectopic kidney. Health experts have yet to discover prevention for this condition.

An ectopic kidney is a rare anatomical condition where one or both kidneys are located in abnormal positions within the abdomen.

Ectopic kidneys are generally present from birth and are often asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause any noticeable health issues. However, in some cases, ectopic kidneys can be associated with certain complications.

These may include an increased risk of kidney infections, urine flow problems, kidney stones, or an elevated likelihood of other congenital abnormalities in the urinary tract.

How Common is an Ectopic Kidney?

Ectopic kidneys are considered to be a relatively rare condition. Estimates suggest that approximately one in 500 to one in 1,000 people may have an ectopic kidney.

Ectopic kidneys can occur in both males and females, and they can be found in people of all ages. It's typically a congenital condition, meaning it's present from birth.

In some cases, ectopic kidneys may be detected incidentally during imaging studies or medical examinations for unrelated reasons, without causing any significant symptoms or health issues.

What Causes an Ectopic Kidney?

An ectopic kidney is caused by malformation during fetal development. This abnormality causes one or both kidneys to migrate to atypical locations.

In a healthy anatomy, the kidneys are positioned symmetrically on either side of the spine, close to the lower ribcage. However, in an ectopic kidney, one or both kidneys may be situated lower in the abdomen, near the pelvic area, or even in the opposite side of the body.

There are also rare instances where trauma or injury may cause the displacement of the kidneys.

What are the Symptoms of an Ectopic Kidney?

Symptoms of an ectopic kidney can vary depending on the specific case and any associated complications. However, many individuals with an ectopic kidney may not experience any symptoms and may remain unaware of the condition. In such cases, the ectopic kidney may only be discovered incidentally during imaging studies being done for other reasons.

This being said, the two most common symptoms of an ectopic kidney are abdominal or flank pain and hematuria.

Can You Prevent an Ectopic Kidney?

No, health experts have not yet developed a preventive cure for this birth defect. However, there are ways to manage the condition to avoid complications.

Potential complications of an ectopic kidney

There can be potential complications associated with an ectopic kidney. These complications may vary depending on the specific circumstances and characteristics of the ectopic kidney, as well as any associated conditions. Some possible complications include:

Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Ectopic kidneys can be prone to urinary tract infections due to abnormal urinary flow or structural abnormalities. Recurrent or untreated UTIs can lead to complications such as kidney damage or the spread of infection to other parts of the urinary system.

Hydronephrosis: This refers to the swelling or enlargement of a kidney due to the buildup of urine. In some cases of ectopic kidneys, abnormalities in the urinary drainage system can lead to urinary obstruction and subsequent hydronephrosis. If left untreated, this can impair kidney function and promote the development of infections or kidney stones.

Kidney stones: Ectopic kidneys may have altered urine flow or structural abnormalities that increase the risk of kidney stone formation. Kidney stones can cause severe pain, urinary obstruction, and potential kidney damage.

Hypertension (high blood pressure): Ectopic kidneys may be associated with renal artery stenosis, which is the narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the kidney. This can lead to reduced blood flow to the kidney and activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, resulting in high blood pressure.

Renal artery aneurysm: In some cases, an ectopic kidney may be associated with the presence of a renal artery aneurysm, which is a bulging or weakening of the blood vessel wall. This can potentially lead to complications such as rupture or blood clot formation.

It's important to note that not all individuals with an ectopic kidney will experience complications, and monitoring by healthcare professionals can help detect and manage any potential issues.

If you have an ectopic kidney or suspect complications, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

Key Point: Does an Ectopic Kidney Affect Your Ability to Become Pregnant?

Pregnancy is possible with women who have an ectopic kidney and can be successful in many cases.

But, there may be an increased risk of complications including urinary tract infections, hydronephrosis, preeclampsia, or difficulties with delivery due to the abnormal positioning of the kidney.

Fetuses who have developed an ectopic kidney are not at risk, but follow-ups with your doctor for monitoring purposes are recommended.

How Do You Treat an Ectopic Kidney?

The treatment for an ectopic kidney depends on the specific circumstances, symptoms, and complications involved. In some cases, treatment may not be necessary if the ectopic kidney is functioning well and not causing any significant issues. However, if complications arise or symptoms become problematic, treatment options may include:

Conservative management: If an ectopic kidney is not causing any significant problems or complications, a "watch and wait" approach may be taken. Regular check-ups, monitoring kidney function, and managing any associated conditions (such as hypertension or urinary tract infections) may be recommended.

Surgery: Surgical intervention may be necessary if the ectopic kidney causes persistent pain, recurrent urinary tract infections, urinary obstruction, or other significant complications. The specific surgical approach will depend on the individual case and may involve procedures such as nephropexy (repositioning and fixation of the kidney), pyeloplasty (reconstruction of the renal pelvis and ureter), or even nephrectomy (removal of the ectopic kidney).

Symptom management: If an ectopic kidney is associated with symptoms such as pain or discomfort, medications may be prescribed to manage these symptoms – such as pain relievers or medications to control infections.

The decision on the most appropriate treatment approach should be made by a healthcare professional based on a thorough evaluation of the individual's case and consideration of their specific symptoms, complications, and overall health status. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and to discuss the most suitable treatment options for an ectopic kidney.

While LifeMD offers care to patients with chronic conditions, ectopic kidney is a serious condition that requires ongoing specialty care and extensive work from an in-person healthcare provider.

This being said, if you’re concerned about your kidney health, LifeMD may be able to help.

LifeMD can offer guidance on ways to maintain healthy habits that may support the management of your condition and avoid further complications.

Make an appointment today to get started.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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