If you’re pregnant or have recently given birth, you’re most likely extra attentive about the health of your growing baby. Kidney dysplasia is one fetal condition your doctor may have talked about. Read on to learn the causes, treatment, and outlook for children with kidney dysplasia.

What is kidney dysplasia?

Kidney dysplasia occurs when one or both kidneys don’t develop as they should while the fetus is growing in the womb. It’s sometimes called multicystic dysplastic kidney or renal dysplasia. A typical adult has two kidneys. Each are about the size of a fist. The kidneys filter the things your body can’t use from blood, including extra water. This forms urine, which is then transported to the bladder. Your kidneys help keep your body in balance. Without them, you risk parts of your body not working correctly. With kidney dysplasia, there’s a problem with the development of the kidneys in utero. Multiple cysts replace normal kidney tissue, and they’re unable to filter blood. Kidney dysplasia occurs in 1 in every 4,300 live births, estimates the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

How is kidney dysplasia diagnosed?

Doctors may diagnose kidney dysplasia during pregnancy via ultrasound. An ultrasound is performed to show images and check the development of the fetus in utero. Sometimes, the doctor who’s interpreting the ultrasound images will notice an irregularity in the kidneys of the fetus. However, the ultrasound doesn’t always catch kidney dysplasia before the child is born. Your doctor may find kidney dysplasia during a routine ultrasound or during a checkup for another condition. Typically, kidney dysplasia occurs in just one kidney. In this case, the child will have limited symptoms and issues as they grow. If kidney dysplasia is present in both kidneys, treatment and monitoring will be needed. There’s also a chance the fetus may not survive pregnancy.

How is kidney dysplasia treated?

If only one kidney is affected, no treatment may be needed. The healthy kidney will typically take over and do the work for the kidney that’s not functioning. Regular checkups to ensure the kidneys are working properly is still needed. Doctors will monitor for: A child with kidney dysplasia in one kidney may be more likely to develop: If both kidneys are affected, close monitoring is required to determine how functional the kidneys are. If the kidneys are completely nonfunctional, babies who survive pregnancy will need a kidney transplant or dialysis to stay healthy.

Can kidney dysplasia be prevented?

At this time, there’s no proven way to prevent kidney dysplasia. Maintaining a good diet and refraining from certain drugs during pregnancy can help prevent medical conditions, such as kidney dysplasia, from developing in your baby. Those who are more likely to develop kidney dysplasia include:
  • children whose parents carry the traits for kidney dysplasia
  • children who have other genetic syndromes
  • children who are exposed to illicit and certain prescription drugs in utero


If your child has kidney dysplasia in one kidney, their outlook is typically good. The child may have a few health problems, such as increased risk of UTIs, but will most likely live a normal life. If your child has kidney dysplasia in both kidneys, they may need dialysis and a kidney transplant as well as close monitoring.