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What is UPJ Obstruction?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A ureteropelvic junction (UPJ) obstruction is a blockage which prevents fluid from draining out of the renal pelvis to the ureter, the tube which carries urine away to the bladder so that it can be expressed. The renal pelvis essentially acts like a funnel for urine, and when it is blocked, urine can back up into the kidney, causing kidney damage. This condition most commonly occurs as a congenital abnormality caused by malformations during fetal development, although it can also have extrinsic causes.

Patients with a UPJ obstruction can experience abdominal swelling and tenderness, bloody urine, and reduced urine production. This condition is often diagnosed during a prenatal ultrasound, in which the malformation can be clearly visualized and addressed shortly after birth. In cases where the cause is extrinsic, as in the instance of an obstruction caused by scarring, a kidney stone, or an infection, a UPJ obstruction may be diagnosed in response to blood tests indicating abnormal kidney function, followed by an ultrasound to assess kidney health.

If a UPJ obstruction is mild, it may be left alone and allowed to resolve on itself. The patient may be given medications to eliminate infection or to break up a kidney stone, and the patient will be checked in a follow up appointment to see if the UPJ has cleared. More serious obstructions like total blockages and obstructions which do not resolve will require surgery. Surgery can include placement of a stent to temporarily drain the kidney until the site has healed.

Surgery for a UPJ obstruction can take a number of forms, with some procedures being more invasive than others. The choice of surgery is usually dictated by the cause of the obstruction, the patient's general health, and the surgeon's preference. Recovery times vary, and generally include monitoring to check urinary output, and follow up care to confirm that the obstruction has been successfully removed.

People who have had kidney surgery are at increased risk for developing a UPJ obstruction, and they should seek the attention of a urologist if they develop any of the symptoms. The same holds true for patients with a history of kidney stones. A UPJ obstruction can also occur as a result of physical trauma, one of the many reasons why an evaluation should be conducted after a car accident, serious fall, or fight, even if a patient feels fine. A medical exam can also reveal issues like internal bleeding which could cause severe complications.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BoniJ — On Oct 03, 2011

I'm glad that I learned that a urinary obstruction can result from a car accident, a physical fight, or fall. I've been in a couple of car accidents, but never thought that I should ask for a pelvic exam to see if everything was all right.

If upj obstruction blocks urine flow and backs up into the kidneys, there are a number of serious complications that could happen. But it's good to know that if the obstruction is mild, it can get better on its own.

By B707 — On Oct 02, 2011

The ultrasound procedure is one of the most useful developments that have helped newborn's health. Being able to see an upj obstruction in a fetus on an ultrasound makes it possible to take care of the problem soon after birth before any other related problems develop.

It's great that so many congenital problems can be diagnosed by ultrasound and corrected soon after a baby is born. Before ultrasound many problems at birth took a while to diagnose and fix. And in the meantime, the baby could experience some very unpleasant symptoms.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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