A pelvic kidney is a kidney that does not move up to the usual position near the rib cage and upper back but remains in the pelvis. This happens during fetal development. Most people do not develop any symptoms, but complications can sometimes occur.

A pelvic or ectopic kidney is a kidney that is not in its usual position near the middle back, right below the rib cage.

Kidney development occurs between the sixth and eighth week after conception. The kidneys should migrate to the lumbar region in the ninth week. If this does not happen, they become ectopic.

Approximately 1 in 1,000 people have a pelvic kidney.

This article describes the causes, complications, and diagnosis of a pelvic kidney. It also looks at the possible treatment options.

A pelvic kidney is a congenital anomaly that occurs during fetal development. Experts do not know exactly why it happens.

However, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) believes that it may happen when a genetic disorder, infection, or chemical reaction occurs during fetal growth.

Learn more about congenital anomalies.

A pelvic kidney does not usually cause any symptoms. However, it can increase a person’s risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney stones.

The Urology Care Foundation explains that many people do not know that they have an ectopic kidney, which often goes undiagnosed. Most of the time, doctors discover this condition when they are treating other health problems.

However, some people with a pelvic kidney may experience symptoms. These may include:

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) lists the following possible complications of a pelvic kidney:

  • UTIs: Urine removes germs from the urinary tract, but these can grow and lead to infections if urine remains in the body for a long time. UTIs may be more common in people with a pelvic kidney.
  • Kidney stones: These hard stones consist of minerals and salts, and they can develop in one or both kidneys.
  • Hydronephrosis: This condition occurs when urine builds up in the kidneys, causing swelling. It can develop in people of any age.

Children with a pelvic kidney may need to wear protective gear when engaging in sporting activities to prevent injuries.

Doctors may perform the following tests to determine whether a person has an ectopic kidney:

  • Ultrasounds: An ultrasound exam can reveal whether a fetus has a pelvic kidney by showing the size and location of the kidneys. Obstetricians can usually provide this diagnosis during the 20th week of pregnancy. However, in some cases, the pelvic kidney may be too small and difficult to spot on an ultrasound image, meaning that a renal nuclear scan or MRI scan may be required.
  • MRI scans: MRI machines use a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of the internal organs. They allow doctors to check the size and location of the kidneys.
  • Radionuclide scan: This imaging test helps evaluate renal anatomy. A person swallows a radioactive chemical or tracer that can detect:
    • cancer
    • infection
    • other disorders
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): This X-ray exam allows doctors to view the urinary tract with the help of contrast dye, a substance that they inject into the vein. IVP can also help doctors diagnose:
  • Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG): A VCUG or cystogram can indicate the size of the bladder and whether it is draining urine properly. During the procedure, a specialist uses a tube to insert a dye into the bladder. They take X-ray images of the bladder and kidneys as the bladder fills and empties. VCUG is generally safe, but some people may experience:

According to the NKF, people with a pelvic kidney may not need any treatment if their kidney is not causing any problems.

However, if there are urine flow problems, doctors may have to treat an infection, remove a blockage, or perform surgery to fix the kidney position. These actions should help provide better urine drainage.

If there is severe kidney damage, it may be best to completely remove the kidney if the other kidney is functioning well.

Many people with a displaced kidney are unaware of it, and it is common to find out only when getting treatment for other health conditions.

Doctors may recommend surgical removal if someone has severe kidney damage and their other kidney is functioning effectively.

It is possible to live a normal life with one kidney. For example, some people donate a kidney, and others are born with just one kidney.

The NIDDK recommends that adults consult a doctor if their child has an ectopic kidney and is interested in doing contact sports or other intensive activities, as these may contribute to kidney damage.

In addition, it may be best for children to wear an alert necklace or bracelet so that healthcare professionals know about their kidney condition.

A pelvic kidney is a condition in which the kidney sits in the pelvis because it did not migrate to the usual position during fetal development.

This does not always cause symptoms. Most people do not know that they have a misplaced kidney. However, in some cases, a pelvic kidney may cause kidney stones or infections.

Doctors may only recommend treatment if the person has severe kidney damage.