What is Medullary Sponge Kidney?

Nat Robinson

Medullary sponge kidney is a kidney disease that is usually present at birth. This disease is a defect of the tubes inside of the kidneys, known as the tubules. As it is formed, urine flows freely through the tubules in individuals with normal kidneys. In an individual with a medullary sponge kidney, cysts form in the inner part of the kidney, known as the medulla. These cysts, which typically have an appearance similar to a sponge, can obstruct the free flow of urine through the tubules.

Kidney stones may be a symptom of having medullary sponge kidneys.
Kidney stones may be a symptom of having medullary sponge kidneys.

Normal tubules are small, which means urine can flow through quickly. As the cysts continue to collect in the tubules of an individual with medullary sponge kidney disease, this may cause the tubules to widen. If they are widened too much, the urine may not be able to pass through as efficiently, often passing through very slowly or not at all.

A urinalysis may be conducted to detect kidney stones.
A urinalysis may be conducted to detect kidney stones.

If the body is unable to release an adequate amount of urine within a certain time frame, toxins may start to build up in the system. Kidney stones and infections can occur as a result of slowed urine flow. Urine stored in the body is warm, and this warmth can enable bacteria growth. Bacteria in the urine may make it less acidic, which can lead to kidney stones. Additionally, the bacteria may lead to an infection, such as an urinary tract infection.

There may be no warning symptoms of having medullary sponge kidneys. Individuals with the condition may experience urinary tract infections, blood in the urine, and kidney stones. Commonly, it is the onset of one of these conditions that leads to the discover of medullary sponge kidney disease. Symptoms of urinary tract infections and kidney stones may be similar and can include fever, pain in the lower back, dark urine, a painful or burning sensation while urinating, and foul smelling urine.

Treatment may not be necessary for many individuals living with a medullary sponge kidney. If there is a consistent occurrence of conditions, such as kidney stones or urinary tract infections, the main method of treatment may be to combat those issues singularly. Kidney stones that are too large to pass on their own may be removed through the urethra with a small tube known as a urteroscope. As for urinary tract infections, antibiotics are typically the main course of treatment. The physician making the diagnosis of medullary sponge kidneys will be able to advise if any additional course of treatment will be needed.

The kidneys perform a crucial role of keeping the blood clean and chemically balanced.
The kidneys perform a crucial role of keeping the blood clean and chemically balanced.

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Discussion Comments


I was born with it. I had spiking fevers as a child of 102 out of the blue. Doctors said it was the flu, and no one listened to my aches and pains. By 12, my tolerance was incredible. At 17, I almost died. I started profusely vomiting for no reason at 10 p.m. and didn't stop all night. By the time I crawled to my mom and told her I was dying, it was almost too late. I had fevers of 104-106 for five days and they thought I had brain damage. They put me on a bed of ice -- very painful. I was diagnosed and my IVP and X-rays showed a bazillion stones. They had never seen so many.

I have pain every day of my life. I ignore 90 percent of it. I have passed stones too large to pass (according to doctors). I had lithotripsy four times on my left kidney and they stopped because they could not make any progress as it turned milky and they couldn't see.

I have bilateral disease, so cutting into my back is not recommended. I have infections almost non-stop, and pass gravel every few weeks. I am now 48 and my daughter who is 18 just started to pee blood the other day. I am very afraid for her.

I will be taking her to the doctor for ultrasound. She already suffers from cysts in her ovaries and I really hope she does not have MSK. When I had my kids, they told me it was not congenital. Now they say it is. No one in my family has this but me. We searched my mother's and father's side. I wish I could get rid of at least half of my stones only because I can't imagine being 60-70 and having this daily pain.


I had no symptoms of medullary sponge kidney until I hit 35. Suddenly, I had bloody urine. It scared me so much that I went to the emergency room in the middle of the night. I feared I was bleeding internally.

The first thing the doctor suspected was kidney trouble. He set me up for a type of x-ray called an IVP. He injected dye into my veins, which traveled to my kidneys through my blood. As it arrived in the urinary tract, it made the urine visible on the x-ray. The doctor was able to see the cysts, because they appeared as clusters of light.


Because of my medullary sponge kidney, I experience both UTIs and kidney stones. I do my best to prevent both by drinking plenty of water, but sometimes, it’s just not enough.

Last year, only a few weeks passed between my UTIs. After my doctor saw me four times in six months, he decided that I needed to be on a continuous low-dose antibiotic to keep the UTIs from recurring. This has helped a lot.

I still get kidney stones from time to time. I have to have them removed by lithotripsy. This procedure uses sound waves for breaking the stones into small particles like sand. They are then small enough to pass with the urine.


I did not know that I had a medullary sponge kidney until I started developing urinary tract infections often. I would have fever, burning urine, and an aching in my lower back. Also, I would feel the need to urinate frequently.

At first, my doctor just treated the infections with antibiotics and told me to drink cranberry juice. When I got four infections in one year, he decided to do an ultrasound of my kidneys. That’s when he found that I had the medullary sponge kidney.

Since there is no treatment for the disease, I just have to go get antibiotics whenever I get a urinary tract infection. It is very inconvenient, and I’m glad I have good insurance.


My pastor’s wife was born with a medullary sponge kidney, and it gives her a lot of trouble. Several times a year, she will develop painful kidney stones. Though some of them are small enough to pass through without help, more often than not, she has to have them removed with a urteroscope.

The large ones send her to the hospital, writhing in pain. She gets pain medicine before, during, and after the removal process. The sad thing is that there is nothing she can do to prevent the stones from forming. She has tried drinking only water and plenty of it, but the stones are caused by her condition and not any dietary choice.

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