The pathophysiology, evaluation, description and clinical implications of renal damage associated with vesicoureteral reflux remain controversial. We summarized the current understanding of this important aspect of clinical vesicoureteral reflux.

Materials and Methods:

We performed a detailed review of the literature on clinical, pathological and experimental data related to congenital vesicoureteral reflux and bladder dynamics. We also reviewed the clinical context and imaging evaluation with underlying experimental data related to post-infectious reflux nephropathy.


Congenital reflux nephropathy is a pattern of impaired renal function and development with renal dysplasia as the most severe but not the only form. Mechanisms of developmental disruption are potentially related to vesicoureteral reflux dynamics during gestation and associated bladder dynamics, which may continue into postnatal life. Acquired renal injury associated with infection is related to particular bacterial and host factors that determine infection virulence, host inflammatory response and tissue recovery. As best seen on dimercapto-succinic acid scan, acute changes may resolve but may also persist as permanent renal scarring. Specific risk factors for acute pyelonephritis and renal scarring in patients with vesicoureteral reflux include higher reflux grade, dysfunctional voiding/elimination, recurrent pyelonephritic episodes and delayed initiation of antibiotic therapy. Low pressure sterile reflux is not a cause of reflux nephropathy.


Renal damage associated with vesicoureteral reflux may be congenital or acquired and the respective pathophysiological mechanisms are likely different. Congenital damage is often dysplasia, which may be a result of disordered renal development secondary to significant alterations in bladder dynamics. These processes may continue into the newborn period while kidney maturation continues. Recognizing the clinical potential for ongoing effects on renal function and the role of bladder development are important for clinical care. Post-pyelonephritic acquired damage is the result of a complex interaction of host and bacterial factors that leads to acute alterations in renal function, and may lead to permanent renal scarring. Strategies for timely intervention as well as prevention are essential to limit the risk of permanent renal injury, which may predispose to hypertension and renal insufficiency in some patients.


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Divisions of Pediatric Urology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Children's National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.