What is kidney reflux?

By Brooke Strickland

Renal (kidney) reflux is a condition where one or both valves in the ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) are not working correctly.  This can cause regular urinary tract infections and if not treated, kidney infection.  The  ureters normally enter the bladder at a diagonal angle and have a one-way flow that prevents urine from flowing back toward the kidney.  But if this one-way system doesn’t work, urine can flow back towards the kidney, otherwise known as urinary reflux.

What are the symptoms?

There are no outward symbols of kidney reflux.  Instead, if your child is showing signs of regular bladder infections, it’s time to consult a doctor.  The signs of a urinary tract infection include:

-Burning sensation when passing urine
-Cloudy, bloody, or smelly urine
-Pain in the lower abdomen
-Complaining about stomach aches
-Wetting – day or night time wetting from a potty-trained child
-Need to urinate more often, but only passing a small portion of urine
-Ongoing irritability

If your child has had consistent bladder infections, your doctor may order some testing to determine if kidney reflux is present.   The first is a painless ultrasound that can show if the kidneys and bladder look normal.  If more information is needed a voiding cystourethrogram (MCU) will be done, where a small plastic tube is inserted into the child’s bladder and liquid is passed through to fill the bladder.  Then an x-ray will be taken as the child passes the urine, the liquid is seen on the x-ray, and the doctor is able to see if reflux is present. 

 This is a somewhat common condition in children and adults and many times they won’t need treatment. However, some kids that have them may need to take a daily antibiotic to prevent further urinary tract infections, especially children that have had other problems or issues with kidneys or bladder infections.   Most children will grow out of the condition; however, some will need surgical correction.  There are several surgical options that your doctor can discuss with you.

If your child is diagnosed with kidney reflux, it’s very important to maintain regular appointments with a urologist to determine treatment options and care.  This is a condition that can often run in families as well, so having other family members tested for reflux is important.