Horseshoe kidney is a problem a baby is born with. The kidneys are fused or joined together, forming a horseshoe shape. Often, children don’t have any symptoms. Later complications of horseshoe kidney include frequent UTIs and kidney stones. Medication can treat infections, and surgery can relieve obstructions or remove kidney stones.
Horseshoe kidney, also called renal fusion, is when two kidneys are fused or joined together. They form a shape like a horseshoe. A horseshoe kidney is also in a different location compared to two typical kidneys. It’s located lower in the pelvis and closer to the front of your body.
Horseshoe kidney occurs as a baby develops before birth. In all babies, kidneys first form in the lower belly. Then kidneys typically move up from the pelvic area and toward the back.
With horseshoe kidney, instead of moving into the usual position on either side of the spine, kidneys become attached at their lower end. When they fuse, they form a U shape.
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The kidneys are part of your urinary system. Kidneys filter your blood to absorb and regulate the electrolytes your body needs. They also clean your blood by removing extra water and waste. The waste travels from the kidneys to the bladder and leaves the body through the urethra as urine.
Many people with horseshoe kidney do not have symptoms. But horseshoe kidney can make you more prone to problems such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and issues with how urine flows and leaves your body.
Horseshoe kidney affects about 1 in 500 people. It affects more men than women.
Horseshoe kidney often affects people born with certain syndromes, including:
Researchers don’t know what causes horseshoe kidney. It’s related to a problem with how the genes instruct your kidneys to form. This problem happens before a baby is born.
Environmental factors may play a role as well. Some babies with renal fusion had exposure to certain toxins before birth, such as drugs or alcohol.
Around 7 in 10 people with renal fusion have symptoms of kidney problems. Many of these symptoms are signs of complications related to horseshoe kidney.
Common symptoms include:
People with horseshoe kidney are more prone to developing:
While kidney cancer is rare, people with horseshoe kidney are more likely than people with typical kidneys to develop cancerous tumors.
Look for signs of kidney tumors, which can include:
Many times, healthcare providers notice horseshoe kidney while diagnosing or treating another condition.
If you see your healthcare provider because of kidney-related symptoms, your provider will do a physical exam. You may also have urinalysis to check for blood or other elements in your urine.
Kidney function tests can see how well your kidneys are working. These may include:
You may also need imaging tests, including:
There’s no cure for horseshoe kidney. If you’re not having symptoms, you may not need any treatment.
If you’re having symptoms, your provider can offer treatments to improve symptoms. For example, antibiotics can treat a bacterial infection.
There is no known way to prevent horseshoe kidney.
Horseshoe kidney usually does not cause serious health problems. You or your child may need ongoing care to manage symptoms, but you can live a full, active life with horseshoe kidney. Horseshoe kidney usually does not affect life expectancy.
People with horseshoe kidney may be at higher risk for kidney (renal) cancer. Keep an eye out for symptoms, and talk to your healthcare provider about steps you should take to stay on top of your kidney health.
See your healthcare provider if you notice these symptoms in you or your child:
A horseshoe kidney is closer to the front of the body than a typical kidney. There’s a higher chance it can be damaged in an accident, while playing sports or due to another physical injury. You may want to:
Because this condition is so rare, your care team should work together to help educate you, your child and your family about how to live safely with horseshoe kidney. Your care team should include:
What else should I ask my healthcare provider?
If you or your child has horseshoe kidney, ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A horseshoe kidney, also called renal fusion, is a condition a child is born with. The two kidneys fuse before birth. Many people don’t experience symptoms, but complications from horseshoe kidney can occur. Most often, people have frequent UTIs and kidney stones. There’s no cure for horseshoe kidney, but you can stay healthy by treating any related conditions that might arise. Take extra precautions to avoid damage or injury to the kidney. If you or your child has frequent UTIs, urinary changes or abdominal pain, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/17/2021.
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