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Reflux nephropathy

Chronic atrophic pyelonephritis; Vesicoureteric reflux; Nephropathy - reflux; Ureteral reflux

 

Reflux nephropathy is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged by the backward flow of urine into the kidney.

Causes

 

Urine flows from each kidney through tubes called ureters and into the bladder. When the bladder is full, it squeezes and sends the urine out through the urethra. No urine should flow back into the ureter when the bladder is squeezing. Each ureter has a one-way valve where it enters the bladder that prevents urine from flowing back up the ureter.

But in some people, urine flows back up to the kidney. This is called vesicoureteral reflux.

Over time, the kidneys may be damaged or scarred by this reflux. This is called reflux nephropathy.

Reflux can occur in people whose ureters do not attach properly to the bladder or whose valves do not work well. Children may be born with this problem or may have other birth defects of the urinary system that cause reflux nephropathy.

Reflux nephropathy can occur with other conditions that lead to a blockage of urine flow, including:

  • Bladder outlet obstruction, such as an enlarged prostate in men
  • Bladder stones
  • Neurogenic bladder, which can occur in people with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, or other nervous system (neurological) conditions

Reflux nephropathy can also occur from swelling of the ureters after a kidney transplant or from injury to the ureter.

Risk factors for reflux nephropathy include:

  • Abnormalities of the urinary tract
  • Personal or family history of vesicoureteral reflux
  • Repeat urinary tract infections

 

Symptoms

 

Some people have no symptoms of reflux nephropathy. The problem may be found when kidney tests are done for other reasons.

If symptoms do occur, they might be similar to those of:

  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Urinary tract infection

 

Exams and Tests

 

Reflux nephropathy is often found when a child is checked for repeated bladder infections. If vesicoureteral reflux is discovered, the child's siblings may also be checked, because reflux can run in families.

Blood pressure may be high, and there may be signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease.

Blood and urine tests will be done, and may include:

  • BUN - blood
  • Creatinine - blood
  • Creatinine clearance - urine and blood
  • Urinalysis or 24-hour urine studies
  • Urine culture

Imaging tests that may be done include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Bladder ultrasound
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
  • Kidney ultrasound
  • Radionuclide cystogram
  • Retrograde pyelogram
  • Voiding cystourethrogram

 

Treatment

 

Vesicoureteral reflux is separated into 5 different grades. Simple or mild reflux often falls into grade I or II. The severity of the reflux and amount of damage to the kidney help determine treatment.

Simple, uncomplicated vesicoureteral reflux (called primary reflux) can be treated with:

  • Antibiotics taken every day to prevent urinary tract infections
  • Careful monitoring of kidney function
  • Repeated urine cultures
  • Yearly ultrasound of the kidneys

Controlling blood pressure is the most important way to slow kidney damage. The health care provider may prescribe medicines to control high blood pressure. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are often used.

Surgery is usually only used in children who have not responded to medical therapy.

More severe vesicoureteral reflux may need surgery, especially in children who do not respond to medical therapy. Surgery to place the ureter back into the bladder (ureteral reimplantation) can stop reflux nephropathy in some cases.

More severe reflux may need reconstructive surgery. This type of surgery may reduce the number and severity of urinary tract infections.

If needed, people will be treated for chronic kidney disease.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

Outcome varies, depending on the severity of the reflux. Some people with reflux nephropathy will not lose kidney function over time, even though their kidneys are damaged. However, kidney damage may be permanent. If only one kidney is involved, the other kidney should keep working normally.

Reflux nephropathy may cause kidney failure in children and adults.

 

Possible Complications

 

Complications that may result from this condition or its treatment include:

  • Blockage of the ureter after surgery
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic or repeat urinary tract infections
  • Chronic kidney failure if both kidneys are involved (can progress to end-stage kidney disease)
  • Kidney infection
  • High blood pressure
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Persistent reflux
  • Scarring of the kidneys

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your provider if you:

  • Have symptoms of reflux nephropathy
  • Have other new symptoms
  • Are producing less urine than normal

 

Prevention

 

Quickly treating conditions that cause reflux of urine into the kidney may prevent reflux nephropathy.

 

 

References

Bakkaloglu SA, Schaefer F. Diseases of the kidney and urinary tract in children. In: Taal MW, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Skorecki K, Yu A, Brenner BM, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 75.

Mathews R, Mattoo TK. Primary vesicoureteral reflux and reflux nephropathy. In: Johnson RJ, Feehally J, Floege J, eds. Comprehensive Clinical Nephrology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 63.

 
  • Female urinary tract

    Female urinary tract - illustration

    The female and male urinary tracts are relatively the same except for the length of the urethra.

    Female urinary tract

    illustration

  • Male urinary tract

    Male urinary tract - illustration

    The male and female urinary tracts are relatively the same except for the length of the urethra.

    Male urinary tract

    illustration

  • Voiding cystourethrogram

    Voiding cystourethrogram - illustration

    One method of examining bladder function is by injecting dye that is visible on X-rays through a tube (catheter) to fill the bladder. X-rays are taken while the bladder is full and while the patient is urinating (voiding) to determine if fluid is forced out of the bladder through the urethra (normal) or up through the ureters into the kidney (vesicoureteral reflux). This study is usually done with the patient lying on an X-ray table.

    Voiding cystourethrogram

    illustration

  • Vesicoureteral reflux

    Vesicoureteral reflux - illustration

    When the ureters enter the bladder, they travel through the wall of the bladder for a distance in such a way that they create a tunnel so that a flap-like valve is created inside the bladder. This valve prevents urine from backing-up into the ureters and kidneys. In some children, the valves may be abnormal or the ureters in the bladder may not travel long enough in the bladder wall, which can cause vesicoureteral reflux. Vesicoureteral reflux is a condition that allows urine to go back up into the ureters and kidneys causing repeated urinary tract infections. The reflux of urine exposes the ureters and kidney to infection from bacteria and high-pressure, which is generated by the bladder during urination.  If left untreated, urinary infections can cause kidney damage and renal scarring with the loss of potential growth of the kidney and high blood pressure later in life. Vesicoureteral reflux is treated with antibiotics, and in severe cases surgically.

    Vesicoureteral reflux

    illustration

    • Female urinary tract

      Female urinary tract - illustration

      The female and male urinary tracts are relatively the same except for the length of the urethra.

      Female urinary tract

      illustration

    • Male urinary tract

      Male urinary tract - illustration

      The male and female urinary tracts are relatively the same except for the length of the urethra.

      Male urinary tract

      illustration

    • Voiding cystourethrogram

      Voiding cystourethrogram - illustration

      One method of examining bladder function is by injecting dye that is visible on X-rays through a tube (catheter) to fill the bladder. X-rays are taken while the bladder is full and while the patient is urinating (voiding) to determine if fluid is forced out of the bladder through the urethra (normal) or up through the ureters into the kidney (vesicoureteral reflux). This study is usually done with the patient lying on an X-ray table.

      Voiding cystourethrogram

      illustration

    • Vesicoureteral reflux

      Vesicoureteral reflux - illustration

      When the ureters enter the bladder, they travel through the wall of the bladder for a distance in such a way that they create a tunnel so that a flap-like valve is created inside the bladder. This valve prevents urine from backing-up into the ureters and kidneys. In some children, the valves may be abnormal or the ureters in the bladder may not travel long enough in the bladder wall, which can cause vesicoureteral reflux. Vesicoureteral reflux is a condition that allows urine to go back up into the ureters and kidneys causing repeated urinary tract infections. The reflux of urine exposes the ureters and kidney to infection from bacteria and high-pressure, which is generated by the bladder during urination.  If left untreated, urinary infections can cause kidney damage and renal scarring with the loss of potential growth of the kidney and high blood pressure later in life. Vesicoureteral reflux is treated with antibiotics, and in severe cases surgically.

      Vesicoureteral reflux

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Reflux nephropathy

           

             

            Review Date: 9/22/2015

            Reviewed By: Charles Silberberg, DO, private practice specializing in nephrology, affiliated with New York Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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