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Some Causes of Kidney Disease in Children

When parents first hear their child has kidney disease, they may wonder what they could have done to prevent it. These feelings are common. In most cases, however, there's no way anyone could know their child would get kidney disease and usually nothing that could have been done to stop it. Focusing on what can be done now, such as getting proper treatment, following doctor's advice, working with your child's healthcare team and learning all you can about the disease, are the best ways to help your child after the diagnosis.

The following information uncovers some of the common causes of kidney disease in children and the popular treatments.

Birth defects and blockages

In most cases, children with kidney disease are born with problems in their urinary tract. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.

Some children are born with a condition that causes the urethra to narrow or become blocked. This prevents urine from leaving the body. Surgery is usually done to clear the blockage. Long-term treatment may include medication and additional surgery.

Another kidney disease, called fetal hydronephrosis, can happen while the child is in the womb, during infancy or in childhood. In this case, there is a narrowing or enlargement of one or both of the kidneys. Surgery may be needed, although, mild cases may clear up without it. If fetal hydronephrosis is diagnosed during pregnancy, the doctor will check the unborn baby often to see how the condition progresses and figure out how to treat it.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

An infant or child develops a urinary tract infection (UTI) when bacteria get into the urinary tract. When only the bladder is involved, the condition is known as cystitis. When the kidneys are involved as well, the UTI is known as pyelonephritis, a more serious infection that can lead to scarring and permanent kidney damage.

Urinary tract infections are usually easy to diagnose in older children and adults. Symptoms include frequent, painful urination and urine that appears cloudy or bloody. If the UTI involves the kidneys, fever and back pain may also occur.

It's more difficult to diagnose a UTI in an infant or toddler. Sometimes an infant with a UTI will throw up or have loose bowel movements. Youngsters may experience abdominal pain, run low-grade fevers or wet the bed.

To diagnose a UTI, a urine sample is taken to check for the growth of bacteria. If the child is given antibiotics, relief usually begins within 12 to 24 hours. If the UTI affects the kidneys, hospitalization and intravenous medications may be necessary.

Reflux disorders and UTIs

Reflux is often diagnosed after a child has a UTI. It occurs when urine goes back up from the bladder to the kidney. This is due to a defect of the "valves" between the ureters and the bladder. Reflux can cause an infection, spreading the kidneys. This can be serious and may lead to kidney damage.

Sometimes, surgery is done to correct reflux disorder, but most children are treated with antibiotics.

Diseases of the kidneys: Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome usually occurs in children aged 6 months to 5 years, although, it can occur in people of any age. Boys are two times more likely to get nephrotic syndrome than girls. Nephrotic syndrome occurs when the kidneys are diseased and unable to keep protein from leaking into the urine. It often appears for the first time after a child has had a cold or infection.

The cause of nephrotic syndrome is unknown. It's typically treated with prednisone. Sometimes doctors prescribe immunosuppressive medications.

Although there is no cure for nephrotic syndrome, most children do well with treatment, and many "outgrow" the disease by the time they reach their teens.

Signs of kidney disease or UTI

Consult your doctor if your child exhibits any of the following:

  • Unexplained low-grade fever
  • Swelling around the eyes, feet, and ankles
  • Lower back pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Frequent severe headaches
  • Frequent bedwetting, especially if the problem recurs after the child had stopped bedwetting for some time (in kids 5 years or older)
  • Unpleasant-smelling urine
  • Urine that is cloudy, bloody or dark brown
  • Poor eating habits, vomiting or chronic diarrhea (in newborns and infants)
  • Poor appetite (in older children)
  • Slow growth or weight gain
  • Weak urinary stream, dribbling or fanning of urine stream
  • Crying during urination (in infants)
  • Painful urination (in older kids)
  • Weakness, excessive tiredness or loss of energy
  • Pale skin or "washed out" appearance