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What is a Kidney Obstruction?

A kidney obstruction is a blockage that hampers the flow of urine, potentially causing severe pain and kidney damage. Imagine a clogged pipe, but inside your body, where urine can't pass freely. This can stem from kidney stones, tumors, or scar tissue. Intrigued? Discover how these blockages form and the innovative ways they're treated by delving deeper into our comprehensive guide.
Bobbie Fredericks
Bobbie Fredericks

Whenever something blocks the flow of urine through a ureter, it is a kidney obstruction. The most common cause of kidney obstruction is a kidney stone. Other causes include structural abnormalities, blood clots, tumors and the shifting of a kidney, which is called kidney ptosis.

Kidney obstruction causes a partial or total blockage of urine drainage. This causes urine to collect in the affected ureter and partially back up into the kidney. This is called hydronephrosis. A urinary tract infection also might occur.

Kidney stones are the most common cause of kidney obstruction.
Kidney stones are the most common cause of kidney obstruction.

Hydronephrosis that comes on suddenly usually produces severe flank pain, which is pain on one side between the upper abdomen and back. When it comes on gradually, hydronephrosis might cause no pain. In some cases, it will cause dull, intermittent flank pain.

All cases of flank pain should be investigated by a health care provider. If there is no infection present, an ultrasound can be performed to determine the cause. A computerized tomography (CT) scan might be needed if the cause cannot be determined via ultrasound. If a kidney obstruction is found, treatment will depend on the type of obstruction.

A renal ultrasound may be conducted to determine the cause of a kidney obstruction.
A renal ultrasound may be conducted to determine the cause of a kidney obstruction.

Kidney stones account for most cases of obstruction. In addition to flank pain, symptoms of kidney stones include nausea, vomiting, painful urination, blood in the urine and pelvic pain. Kidney stones usually do not require treatment other than pain medication unless there is significant blockage of urine. In this case, surgery probably will take place in an attempt to break up the stone.

A kidney stone can form in various parts of the kidney.
A kidney stone can form in various parts of the kidney.

Blood clots might sometimes occur in the kidneys or ureters. Blood clots might be caused by injury or clotting disorders. Along with flank pain, symptoms include blood in the urine and low urine output. Blood clots usually are treated with blood thinners, although surgical removal might be necessary. Long-term treatment will depend on the cause of the clot.

If the cause of obstruction cannot be determined via ultrasound, a CT scan may be performed to assess the cause.
If the cause of obstruction cannot be determined via ultrasound, a CT scan may be performed to assess the cause.

Another cause of kidney obstruction is a tumor. The tumor could be in the affected kidney itself, in the ureter or in the abdomen in a place where it puts pressure on the kidney. Symptoms of a tumor include flank pain, a lump in the abdomen, weight loss, fatigue and possibly fever. Treatment of the tumor will depend on its size and location but might include, chemotherapy, radiation or surgical removal.

Kidney obstructions are often identified during an ultrasound of the organ.
Kidney obstructions are often identified during an ultrasound of the organ.

Sometimes an obstruction is caused by a congenital condition, such as a birth defect. In such cases, it probably will be discovered via ultrasound at a prenatal examination. If only one kidney is affected, the fetus usually will develop well, although the obstructed kidney might be permanently damaged. If both kidneys are affected, however, prenatal surgery might be required.

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Discussion Comments

anon311555

Can cervical cancer cause a kidney obstruction?

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    • Kidney stones are the most common cause of kidney obstruction.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      Kidney stones are the most common cause of kidney obstruction.
    • A renal ultrasound may be conducted to determine the cause of a kidney obstruction.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      A renal ultrasound may be conducted to determine the cause of a kidney obstruction.
    • A kidney stone can form in various parts of the kidney.
      By: bilderzwerg
      A kidney stone can form in various parts of the kidney.
    • If the cause of obstruction cannot be determined via ultrasound, a CT scan may be performed to assess the cause.
      By: Tyler Olson
      If the cause of obstruction cannot be determined via ultrasound, a CT scan may be performed to assess the cause.
    • Kidney obstructions are often identified during an ultrasound of the organ.
      By: jeff gynane
      Kidney obstructions are often identified during an ultrasound of the organ.
    • Blood in the urine is a possible symptom of a kidney obstruction.
      By: tomschoumakers
      Blood in the urine is a possible symptom of a kidney obstruction.
    • A urinalysis may be conducted to detect kidney stones, which account for most cases of kidney obstruction.
      By: Mi.Ti.
      A urinalysis may be conducted to detect kidney stones, which account for most cases of kidney obstruction.
    • The kidneys perform a crucial role of keeping the blood clean and chemically balanced.
      By: maya2008
      The kidneys perform a crucial role of keeping the blood clean and chemically balanced.