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What Are the Causes of a Swollen Kidney?

author image Aubri John
Aubri John has been a contributing researcher and writer to online physical and mental health oriented journals since 2005. John publishes online health and fitness articles that coincide with her licensed clinical skills in addictions, psychology and medical care. She has a master's degree in clinical social work and a Ph.D. in health psychology.
What Are the Causes of a Swollen Kidney?
Kidney swelling results from congenital conditions and side effects of medications.

Kidney diseases are characterized by a decrease in kidney function for three or more months consecutively, notes the National Kidney Foundation. The kidneys serve a vital role in removing waste and excess fluid from the body through urination. Various factors can hinder this process, causing fluid retention, toxins to build up and chronic diseases in the kidneys that become life threatening. A typical symptom of kidney disturbance is inflammation or swelling. Causes range from urine reflux to coexisting medical conditions.


According to, glomerulonephritis is a form of kidney disease causing acute or chronic kidney inflammation. Glomeruli are a conglomeration of tiny filters in each kidney that connect to tubules, which collect fluid from the body. Together the glomeruli and tubules form a nephron, the main functional unit in each kidney. Filtering blood and returning nontoxic blood to the bloodstream as well as containing necessary proteins extracted from the filtration process are significant kidney functions. Bacteria and viral infections as well as immune diseases can hinder the glomeruli from completing the filtration and waste excretion required for the kidneys to work properly. Damage from these sources lead to kidney inflammation and acute or chronic kidney failure.

Polycystic Kidney Disease

A genetic disorder known as polycystic kidney disease causes multiple cysts to grow in the kidneys. The cysts destroy normal kidney tissue, leading to enlargement of the kidneys. The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center explains that this condition is a congenital defect in the chromosomes, which has a 50 percent risk of being passed to offspring when present in one parent. Adults with one dominant polycystic kidney gene experience onset of symptoms after 30 years of age. Symptoms include pressure in the abdomen from swollen kidneys, back pain and fatigue.

Vesicoureteral Reflux

Abnormal flow of urine from the bladder back to kidney tubules, called ureters, is a condition referred to as vesicoureteral reflux. The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse indicates that this condition is commonly diagnosed in childhood after experiencing a urinary tract infection. Primary vesicoureteral reflux occurs when a child is born; the valve adjoining the ureter to the bladder is impaired, causing urine to back up. The secondary form of this condition happens when a blockage results from a bladder infection that causes kidney and bladder swelling. Depending on the individual, this condition is treated with antibiotics to manage infection or through a surgical procedure to elongate the impaired tube.

Hydronephrosis and Interstitial Nephritis

Hydronephrosis is distention or swelling of the kidneys due to obstructions between the ureter and renal pelvis. Merck Manuals Online Medical Library notes that this condition can result from a blood clot or stones in the ureter. Interstitial nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys that may be temporary or chronic, depending on the cause. MedlinePlus explains that interstitial nephritis may result from drug allergies or from the use of medications, such as acetaminophen, or be a side effect of using antibiotics.

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