• Hydronephrosis—Adult


    Hydronephrosis a build-up of urine in the kidneys. The kidneys swell from the excess urine which cannot drain into the bladder. The condition may affect one or both kidneys. Hydronephrosis is not a disease, but a symptom of a problem with the urinary system.
    Kidney, Ureter, Bladder, and Kidney Stone
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Hydronephrosis is caused by one of two problems in the urinary system:

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of hydronephrosis include:
    • Defect in the urinary system that is present at birth
    • Scarring of the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
    • Cancers in the pelvic area (bladder, cervix, colon, or prostate)
    • Persistent kidney or urinary tract infections
    • Blood-clotting disorders
    • Benign prostatic hyperplasia
    • Neurogenic bladder
    • Injury to structures in the urinary system, such as from surgery or trauma
    • Enlarged uterus during pregnancy


    Hydronephrosis may or may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms occur, they may include:
    • Pain in the back, waist, lower abdomen, or groin
    • Persistent pain with urination or urinary frequency from urinary tract infections
    • Increased urge to urinate or urinary incontinence
    • Incomplete urination
    • Fever
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Unexplained itching


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It may include a pelvic or rectal exam to feel for blockages. You may be referred to a urologist and/or nephrologist for further diagnosis and treatment.
    Tests may include:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
    Imaging tests evaluate the urinary system. This can be done with:


    A catheter may be inserted into the bladder to drain excess urine from the kidney. Some causes of hydronephrosis resolve without treatment, such as pregnancy and kidney stones.
    Treatment options include:


    Depending on the cause, hydronephrosis may be treated with:
    • Antibiotics for infection
    • Medications for neurogenic bladder or to reduce excess uric acid excretion


    Surgery is usually not needed, but it may be necessary in some cases. Procedures may include:
    • Removing a blockage or correcting a defect in the urinary system
    • Nephrostomy—A catheter is placed into the kidney. The catheter is attached to a urine collection bag.
    • Nephrectomy—Removal of part or all of the kidney (rare).


    In general, the causes of hydronephrosis cannot be prevented. Prompt treatment of conditions that cause hydronephrosis reduces the risk of complications, such as kidney failure.


    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov

    National Kidney Foundation http://www.kidney.org


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    Kidney Foundation of Canada http://www.kidney.ca


    Hydronephrosis. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hydronephrosis. Accessed July 12, 2013.

    Kidney disease and kidney failure. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/kidney-disease/Pages/default.aspx. Updated November 15, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2013.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.