A ureterocele is when the lower end of your ureter bulges. It occurs during fetal development when the ends of your ureter don’t form correctly. The ureterocele blocks the flow of urine. Healthcare providers usually diagnose it before birth. Surgical treatment can fix a ureterocele.
A ureterocele is a congenital condition (something you’re born with) that causes the bottom of your ureter to bulge like a balloon inside your bladder. Your ureters are tubes that carry your pee from your kidney to your bladder. A ureterocele blocks the flow or urine (pee), which can lead to pee backing up to your kidneys (vesicoureteral reflux). Ureteroceles can vary in size and can cause different symptoms depending on the type and location.
A ureterocele can affect one ureter (unilateral ureterocele) or both ureters (bilateral ureterocele). A unilateral ureterocele is the more common type.
Healthcare providers can also classify a ureterocele depending on its location. Most ureteroceles are extravesical (up to 75% of cases). Extravesical ureterocele is most common in infants and children. It means the bulge extends to the bottom of the bladder (bladder neck) and to the urethra.
Ureteroceles can also be intravesical (less than 25% of all cases). With this type, the bulge appears just inside your bladder and doesn’t extend to the bladder neck or outside your bladder.
A ureterocele occurs in about 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 12,000 children. It’s more common in people assigned female at birth (AFAB).
Ureteroceles often don’t have any symptoms, unless the condition causes a urinary tract infection (UTI). Symptoms of a UTI include:
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms in your child.
A ureterocele forms during fetal development when the end of the ureter that enters the bladder doesn’t form correctly. Sometimes, you don’t have symptoms of a ureterocele until you’re an adult, but the cause is still the same.
There are no risk factors for a ureterocele. Researchers believe it happens randomly. It’s not due to something you (or a birth parent) did incorrectly during pregnancy.
A ureterocele is serious but treatable. Without treatment, a ureterocele can lead to kidney damage and kidney infection.
When your pee doesn’t drain from your body (urinary retention), it can back up into your kidneys. This causes a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can lead to kidney damage.
Other risks include:
Kidney damage is irreversible, which means once it loses some of its functionality, it doesn’t come back. For that reason, it’s important to receive treatment to preserve kidney function.
Healthcare providers can diagnose many ureteroceles during a prenatal ultrasound. This most often occurs around 20 weeks in pregnancy. A swollen ureter and kidney on the ultrasound may lead your provider to suspect a ureterocele. An imaging test after birth can confirm it. Sometimes, a ureterocele diagnosis doesn’t happen until after birth. But most children with a ureterocele receive a diagnosis by age 2.
However, the condition can still be found in older children and adults who experience kidney stones or a urinary tract infection. Your provider may order any of these tests:
Treatment for a ureterocele depends on:
If your pregnancy care provider finds it during a prenatal ultrasound, you may take antibiotics to reduce the chances of infection until surgery happens. Once your child is born, their healthcare provider will determine the best treatment.
Other options for treatment include surgery or watchful waiting.
The goal of surgery is to stop the ureter from ballooning and causing a blockage. There are several surgical methods your provider may use:
Watchful waiting involves a healthcare provider monitoring your condition over time to see how it progresses. This may apply to you if you’re an adult or if your ureterocele isn’t causing any symptoms and there appears to be no kidney damage.
Surgical treatment to fix a ureterocele is very effective, but all surgeries come with risks. Some of the possible complications of surgery for ureterocele include:
Yes, surgical treatment can cure a ureterocele.
No, you can’t prevent a ureterocele. It’s sporadic and happens randomly.
The outlook is generally good because the blockage of urine is temporary. If your child has a ureterocele that causes kidney damage, know that the kidney damage is permanent. You can’t fix kidney damage; you can only prevent it from getting worse. That’s why early detection and treatment for a ureterocele is critical. Luckily, healthcare providers can diagnose most cases of ureterocele during pregnancy.
Contact your child’s pediatrician if they have symptoms of a UTI, such as:
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/31/2024.
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