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Urinary reflux

Urinary reflux (sometimes called vesicoureteric reflux) is a condition that is usually diagnosed in childhood. It means wee (urine) is flowing back from your bladder, up your ureters (tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder), sometimes reaching your kidneys.

Normally when the bladder empties, valves in the ureters close, stopping the wee going back into the kidneys. In urinary reflux the valves do not close so wee is forced back towards the kidney.

If the wee is infected, it can cause infection of the kidneys (pyelonephritis) that can scar and damage the kidneys.

Causes of urinary reflux

Urinary reflux is usually a problem you're born with and is usually diagnosed during childhood. It's more common in females than males and is more common if other members of the same family have it.

Sometimes the kidneys have not developed normally or have abnormalities such as narrowing or a blockage affecting the flow of wee.

Symptoms of urinary reflux

Most symptoms of urinary reflux are the result of getting an infection. They can include:

Diagnosing urinary reflux

Urinary reflux may be suspected if there are recurrent urine infections (UTIs).

Urinary reflux is usually diagnosed with an ultrasound scan, which looks at the size of the child's kidneys to see if there is any swelling. Sometimes it shows up before birth on a routine pregnancy ultrasound.

Treating urinary reflux

People with urinary reflux usually take antibiotics to treat or prevent any urinary infections.

Very occasionally they need an operation to mend their ureter valves or remove a blockage. This is to stop wee from flowing back into their kidneys.

If your blood pressure is high, it will need treating to help protect your kidneys.

While you cannot prevent urinary reflux, you can help prevent some urinary infections and help keep your urinary tract healthy. Things you can do include:

Complications of urinary reflux

Urinary reflux can cause scarring and kidney damage if it isn't treated. This is called reflux nephropathy (nef-roh-path-y).

Usually, reflux gets better with age and there are no long-term complications. If there is scarring, it's usually minor and doesn't cause any long-term problems.

But sometimes it can cause long-term damage to a child's kidneys. If a child has had urinary reflux, they should regularly have their blood pressure checked to make sure there are no long-term problems.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.


Page reference: 203862

Review key: HIKID-202879