The kidneys are the part of the urinary tract that helps the body process waste into urine and send it out of the body. They are two bean-shaped organs located behind the abdominal organs, in the mid-back area. One kidney is located on either side of the spine. People’s bodies can function with reduced kidney function or with just one kidney.
Learn more about common kidney conditions that urologists treat, below.
Acute kidney injury
Accidents, illness, inflammation, blood loss, medication or severe dehydration can cause acute kidney injury. Some people recover on their own from this type of injury. If they do not recover, the injury will need to be treated by dialysis or kidney transplant.
Chronic kidney disease
More than 25 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, also called hypertension. These two causes are responsible for two-thirds of chronic kidney disease. People who have a family history of kidney failure also are at greater risk for chronic kidney disease.
Physicians can diagnose chronic kidney disease with a few simple blood and urine tests. Identifying the condition early can help prevent it from progressing to kidney failure. If it goes undiagnosed, chronic kidney disease causes lasting damage. Kidney failure must be treated by dialysis or kidney transplant.
Hydronephrosis happens when urine does not easily drain from one or both kidneys. It can be caused by one of several underlying issues, including a kidney stone, a urinary tract infection, a blockage that is present at birth, scarring from surgery or injury, a blood clot, an enlarged prostate—either due to prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)—or pregnancy.
Physicians may diagnosis hydronephrosis using ultrasound or other imaging, such as x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan. It is very important to resolve hydronephrosis quickly. The usual course is to treat the underlying condition or cause. In some cases, the treatment is surgical. Most people recover fully from hydronephrosis. In severe cases, when the condition is not detected and resolved quickly, it could lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or kidney transplant.
Many people will experience kidney stones during their lifetime. The most common cause of kidney stones is not drinking adequate amounts of fluid. Kidney stones form when minerals and salts in the urine clump together. These pebble-like clumps can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Smaller stones can pass with the urine, although even those can be very painful. Larger stones can be removed with other treatments such as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy and laser treatment or percutaneous nephrolithotomy
Kidney cancer is the rapid growth of abnormal cells within the kidney. These cells mass together to form a tumor. As with other types of cancer, the cells may break free and spread through the body. Kidney cancer is not common but it can occur, particularly in older adults. Fortunately, most kidney tumors are identified while they are small. Most kidney tumors are removed with surgery, but other treatment options also are available for kidney cancer.
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease causes multiple cysts to grow in one or both kidneys. These cysts are not cancerous, but they can damage the kidneys. The disease can be genetic, meaning it is inherited. Many people do not have any symptoms of polycystic kidney disease. When people do have symptoms, high blood pressure is the most common symptom.
Nearly half of people with this condition experience kidney failure by age 60, so it is important for people with a family history to be screened. Physicians diagnose polycystic kidney disease with imaging, such as ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) scans. If the disease causes kidney failure, the person will require treatment, often with dialysis or kidney transplant.
Renal fusion (horseshoe kidney)
Renal fusion is a congenital condition, meaning a child is born with it. It occurs when the kidneys join at the top or bottom rather than separating into two individual kidneys. About one in 500 babies has this condition. It is more common in males. This condition usually does not require any intervention.