The kidneys start to grow during the first month of fetal development. These organs produce urine and maintain normal levels of electrolytes and fluids in the body. Kidney problems that occur during fetal development could lead to complications after birth. Proper monitoring and medical intervention could reduce the risk of these complications.
Kidney problems that are sometimes diagnosed in developing fetuses include polycystic kidney disease, hydronephrosis and fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney. Polycystic kidney disease causes cysts to grow in the kidneys. As the cysts grow, they damage the kidney tissue. Hydronephrosis refers to the swelling of one kidney. This condition causes the funnel-like part of the kidney to dilate. Fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney causes cysts to form in the kidney. Children’s Memorial Hospital describes these cysts as similar in appearance to a bunch of grapes.
Polycystic kidney disease occurs due to genetic mutations. A mutation of the gene PKD1, located on chromosome 16, causes the autosomal dominant form of polycystic kidney disease, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. The autosomal recessive form of the disease occurs due to a mutation of PKD2, located on chromosome 4. Hydronephrosis occurs when a urine blockage causes urine to back up into the kidneys. Malformation of the kidney causes fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney.
Prenatal testing can identify polycystic kidney disease, hydronephrosis and fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney in developing babies. Amniocentesis, which involves removing a sample of amniotic fluid from the womb, helps diagnose PKD. Doctors also use chorionic villus sampling to diagnose PKD. This test involves removing a small piece of the placenta and testing it for genetic disorders and medical defects. Prenatal ultrasound helps detect hydronephrosis. Cornell University explains that a sonographer can visualize the kidneys of a fetus by the 14th or 15th week of development. At 20 weeks, the sonographer can see the internal structures of the kidneys. Ultrasound also helps doctors diagnose cases of fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney.
The effects of a fetal kidney problem depend on the type of problem and its severity. PKD effects range from mild to severe. After birth, PKD may cause high blood pressure. FamilyDoctor.org reports that kidney failure occurs in approximately 50 percent of people who have PKD. This condition could cause cysts to form in the pancreas, ovaries, brain, spleen, liver and intestines. Hydronephrosis causes pain in the area between the hip and the ribs. Fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney could cause kidney blockages and other kidney defects.
PKD and fetal multicystic dysplastic kidney have no cure. In cases of PKD, medical professionals prescribe medications to control high blood pressure. If urinary tract infections occur as a result of PKD, antibiotics treat the infection. PKD-induced kidney failure requires treatment with kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant. Care providers monitor the progression of multicystic kidney disease via ultrasound. To relieve hydronephrosis, doctors relieve the obstruction causing the urine to back up into the kidneys.