An ectopic ureter occurs when a person is born with a ureter in the wrong position (the tube drains pee to the wrong place). An ectopic ureter can cause urinary incontinence, infections and swelling. The condition is present at birth but can be difficult to diagnose. Surgery can correct the problem and prevent kidney damage.
The ureters are a pair of narrow tubes that carry urine (pee) from the two kidneys to your bladder. Usually, a person has one ureter attached to each kidney and each connects to one side of their bladder.
An ectopic ureter is a congenital abnormality of the ureter. A person is born with a ureter that connects to the wrong place. That is, an ectopic ureter carries urine to somewhere other than the bladder, such as:
An ectopic ureter can cause:
In rare, severe cases that aren’t treated, the effects of an ectopic ureter may damage your kidneys.
Anyone can be born with an ectopic ureter. This congenital defect can run in the family, so if a parent has an ectopic ureter, a child has a higher chance of having one.
For unknown reasons, ectopic ureters are about 10 times more common in girls.
Sometimes ectopic ureters happen with other structural abnormalities with the kidneys or urinary system. For example, a person may have a duplex kidney, meaning a kidney has two ureters instead of one.
About 1 in 1,900 people are diagnosed with an ectopic ureter. But it’s probably even more common because it’s often not diagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Ectopic ureter has no known cause. Scientists don’t yet understand why ureters sometimes form differently while a fetus is developing. However, this congenital abnormality often runs in families. If you have an ectopic ureter, each of your children has a 50% chance of developing it.
The signs of ectopic ureter include:
Sometimes an ectopic ureter is diagnosed before birth, during a prenatal ultrasound. For those that aren’t, an ectopic ureter can be difficult to diagnose because other problems have similar signs and symptoms. Even though it’s present at birth, the condition is often missed or misdiagnosed for years.
To make a diagnosis, a healthcare provider will:
The healthcare provider also might order some other tests:
The only treatment for an ectopic ureter is surgery. The goal is to correct the congenital defect or drain urine away from the kidney to prevent damage.
Different types of surgery may be used:
There’s no way to prevent an ectopic ureter. But if you have it, consider mentioning it to your children’s healthcare providers. This congenital abnormality can run in families. Your obstetrician or pediatrician may recommend tests to diagnose ectopic ureter early.
The outlook for people with an ectopic ureter is generally good after treatment.
Even if part or all of a kidney is removed, the other kidney can do the work. And an ectopic ureter rarely affects sexual function or a person’s ability to have children.
Consider asking your healthcare provider some questions to understand your specific situation:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
An ectopic ureter is a congenital abnormality. The condition is present at birth but can be hard to diagnose. An ectopic ureter can cause urinary incontinence, recurring UTIs, swelling in the abdomen and even kidney damage. Talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and options for surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2021.
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