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Urinary troubles due to childhood kidney reflux?

Dear Alice,

I’m having a burning sensation when I urinate and it still burns after I urinate. Also, I can’t urinate all the way and am continually having to go to the bathroom. I was diagnosed with kidney reflux when I was a child — could this be that?

Dear Reader, 

It’s possible that your childhood condition could be associated with what you're experiencing while urinating. Having had kidney reflux in the past could predispose you to having recurring infections of the bladder, ureter, or kidneys. However, without visiting a health care provider, it’s difficult to determine the exact cause for why you are experiencing these symptoms. 

Kidney reflux, or vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), is a condition commonly found in newborns or young children. Typically, they show signs of urinary troubles which are commonly caused by the ureter, a tube that brings urine down into the bladder after it’s been filtered in the kidney. There are two forms of VUR: primary and secondary. Primary VUR is believed to be related to genetic causes and occurs when the ureter is short, not quite reaching deep enough into the bladder. This often resolves on its own during normal growth and development in early childhood. In secondary VUR, the tube connecting the kidney and the bladder doesn’t close all the way. The result is that when the bladder contracts (and the body tries to get rid of urine), urine travels backward toward the kidney. This could Sometimes be caused because the bladder itself is obstructed. Other causes include a blockage, your bladder muscle not working as it should, or damage to the nerves that tell your bladder when to drain. People who are at the greatest risk of developing VUR include those with bladder and bowel dysfunction, people assigned female at birth, white children, and people with a family history of VUR. 

Having a history of VUR may also make someone more prone to get urinary tract infections (UTIs). This is due to the fact that urine doesn’t flow easily from the kidney to the bladder at a regular rate causing small microbes or bacteria to get into these small spaces and multiply, creating a painful infection. If you have a UTI, it’s possible to experience symptoms similar to what you are currently experiencing as well as others such as: 

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate 
  • A burning sensation when urinating 
  • Needing to pee frequently, but only passing a small amount of urine each time 
  • Cloudy urine 
  • Fever 
  • Pain in your abdomen or side 

List adapted from the Mayo Clinic 

Some literature claims that UTIs may lead to renal damage if left untreated. Other possible long-term effects of UTIs can include kidney scarring (permanent damage to the kidney tissue), high blood pressure, acute kidney failure, or chronic kidney disease. 

As for VUR treatment options, most focus on preventing kidney scarring and UTIs through a low daily dose of antibiotics until it is resolved. On occasion, surgery has been used to help better connect the ureter with the bladder. For children who have undergone surgery to correct this condition, researchers have observed higher rates of UTIs immediately after surgery as well as later in life. Since you've had a VUR in the past, you might consider telling a health care provider this information (if they don’t already know) since this may prompt them to monitor your kidneys more thoroughly to make sure everything is flowing in the right direction. 

There may also be alternative causes to why you are experiencing a burning sensation when you pee that aren’t related to VUR or a UTI.  In people assigned male at birth, common causes can be associated with urethritis and certain prostate conditions. Consider seeking the advice of a health care professional if symptoms persist or worsen. They can accurately diagnose and explain the exact cause of your pain. 

Best of luck in easing your pain,  

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Last updated Apr 28, 2023
Originally published Oct 31, 2014

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