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Ectopic Kidneys

Normally, a person is born with two separate kidneys, located in the lower back of the abdominal cavity and are covered by the rib cage. At times, certain factors may affect the normal development of the kidneys and result in ectopic kidneys.

The kidneys are responsible for filtering out toxins from the bloodstream and maintain normal level of essential chemicals in the body. This enables the other organs in the body to function properly. Kidneys are also important to regulate the blood pressure and the number of red blood cells which are produced in the bone marrow. During the fetal stage (in pregnancy) the kidneys start to form in the lower abdomen and steadily ascend to the normal position a little higher up in the abdominal cavity.

What is an ectopic kidney?

Ectopic kidney (renal ectopia) occurs when the kidney is not placed in its normal position. These are seen to affect around 1 in 1,000 children, however only 10% of the cases are diagnosed effectively.

Most of the times, the diagnosis happens during a routine physical examination, or during a surgery for another disorder.

Ectopic kidneys can stop their ascension at any level on their way to the normal position. Ectopic kidneys can be:

  • Simple ectopic kidney (simple renal ectopia) – This kidney is located on the correct side however its position is abnormal.
  • Cross ectopic kidney (crossed renal ectopia) – This kidney is located on the opposite side (right to left or vice versa) so that there are two kidneys on the same side. The two kidneys are often fused together as a result of this.

Ectopic kidneys are mostly suspected to occur as a result of congenital (birth) developmental defect of other organ systems in the body.

What are the symptoms of ectopic kidney (renal ectopia)?

  • The main symptoms are the abnormal functioning of the kidneys. The abnormal positioning results in incomplete drainage of the urine from the affected kidneys.
  • Around 50% of ectopic kidneys are also known to cause partial obstruction. With time, this obstruction leads to other complications, including UTI (urinary tract infection), kidney (renal) failure or kidney stones.
  • VUR (Vesicovaginal reflux) is also associated with ectopic kidneys in some cases, which causes the urine to flow backwards from the bladder to the kidney again. This can lead to infections that can cause extensive damage to the kidneys.
  • At times, non-ectopic kidneys may also result in abnormal functioning, including VUR and obstruction.
  • UTI, other infections and abdominal pain/lump are the commonly seen symptoms of ectopic kidneys.

What are the treatment methods for ectopic kidneys?

Treatment for ectopic kidneys is advised in case the VUR (Vesicovaginal reflux) or obstruction is seen. In case there is no significant damage to the kidney because of the condition, then the obstruction or VUR is corrected with a surgical operation.

In cases where the kidneys suffer extensive scarring and its functioning is affected, surgical removal remains the best-suited treatment for it.

What can be expected after treatment for ectopic kidneys?

Normal lifestyle is possible after successful removal of ectopic kidney if the remaining kidney is unaffected and functions normally.

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