What Is the Treatment for an Enlarged Kidney?

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  • Originally Written By: Amanda Livingstone
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 28 January 2019
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The treatment for an enlarged kidney usually depends on what is causing the enlargement in the first place, but frequently involves a combination of drugs and more invasive procedures like draining fluid and, when necessary, surgical intervention. The goal is usually to solve the underlying condition more than it is to simply shrink the kidney back to its normal size. As such, getting an accurate diagnosis is a crucial first step. Enlargements can happen for a number of reasons, and what works to cure one cause might not be as effective for something else.

Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis

Enlarged kidneys aren’t usually something that people notice right away, and they don’t always require treatment. Sometimes the organ swelling is caused by a temporary infection, and in these instances it will often go away on its own. Conditions like polycystic kidney disease can also be a cause, however, as can certain cancers. Both of these things do require potentially aggressive treatments in order for patients to remain healthy.

People who suffer from alcoholism or who drink excessively can also cause tissue damage and scarring that can lead to swelling. Whether the enlargement can be reduced and, if so, how, is usually something that a healthcare provider determines once the reason has been found. In most cases the swelling is just a symptom of a bigger problem.



Antibiotic drug regimens are very common treatments for enlarged kidneys that happen as a result of infection. Pyelonephritis, better known as a kidney infection, is caused by the Escherichia coli bacterium. One of the symptoms of pyelonephritis is enlarged and painful kidneys. Depending on the severity of the infection, antibiotics are typically taken for up to 14 days. For men whose infections are related to ongoing prostate infections, treatment may last up to six weeks. As with any antibiotic courses, it’s important for patients to take the entire prescription even if they start feeling better part way through. Antibiotics keep working even after symptoms have gone away, and stopping prematurely can actually cause the infection to come back even stronger than it was before.

Cancer Drugs and Stem Cell Therapy

Another cause of enlarged kidneys is a metabolic disorder called amyloidosis. The condition occurs when amyloid proteins build up in human organs like the kidneys. Once enough amyloid protein accumulates in surrounding tissues, the disorder causes enlargement and swelling. Several treatment options including stem cell therapy and, on occasion, certain cancer drugs are available to prevent serious complications in people who suffer from these and related conditions.

Amyloidosis is not a form of cancer, but chemotherapy and anti-inflammatory agents have been shown to help to prevent harmful deposits from collecting in various tissues and organs. Peripheral blood stem cell transplantation is another possible treatment option. Stem cell transplantation involves high-dose chemotherapy and transfusion to replace diseased and damaged cells. This procedure is usually reserved for aggressive forms of the disease due to the serious risks it poses. Of course, chemotherapy and sometimes also radiation are often prescribed in cases where kidney enlargement is actually owing to cancerous growths that have either started in those organs or have spread there.

Fluid Draining

Sometimes swelling is caused by fluid retention in the kidneys that needs to be drained, and in these instances catheters or subcutaneous pumping systems may be the best treatment options. A condition known as bilateral hydronephrosis is one example of such a condition. In these cases, the urine collecting structures of one or both kidneys cannot drain into the bladder. The usual culprit is an obstruction of some sort, such as an enlarged prostate. Using a Foley catheter to bypass the obstruction will most likely relieve symptoms and should restore the kidneys to health and normal size, though it’s often the case that the obstruction itself will also need to be treated and probably removed for the effects to be long lasting.

Draining the bladder with nephrostomy tubes is another similar treatment option. The tubes are typically either inserted through the skin or directly placed in the ureters via stents. Ureters are the anatomical structures that physically connect the kidney and bladder. Once the underlying cause of the blockage is treated and removed, enlargement should dissipate.


In certain cases surgery is the best way to both reduce swelling and prevent the chance that enlargement will recur. It’s usually considered a more extreme option and tends to be recommended only for people who have ongoing enlargement problems, or when the enlargement is immediately life threatening. Surgery is usually the most compelling option when there is some sort of major blockage or obstruction that can’t be sufficiently treated with medications or fluid drains; tumors are one example, and cysts are another.

A condition known as polycystic kidney disease sometimes requires surgical intervention. This disease is characterized by various cysts or fluid-filled growths that appear on the walls and inner tissues of the organ. They’re usually benign and don’t cause much trouble when they’re small, but when there are a lot of them and when they grow they can cause big problems. Many surgeons are able to attack cyst growths with lasers, which can be less invasive then more complicated operations but still carry a number of risks and possible side effects.


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Post 3

@Animandel - There are some benefits to having a kidney transplant, but not everyone handles the surgery well. One of my aunts had a transplant.

The first problem she had was finding a donor. This took forever. Once a good donor was found, my aunt had a terrible time after the surgery. A transplant is major surgery, and my aunt had complications, including several infections that were very serious.

Then her body tried to reject the new kidney, so my aunt had to take drugs to fight this. The drugs made her sick. She kept the transplanted kidney for eighteen month before it had to be removed.

Post 2

When treatments for enlarged kidneys and other kidney ailments do not work, some people are able to get transplants and live long lives. The good thing about a transplant is that the person with the kidney failure doesn't have to go through the routine of dialysis.

Also, a person who gets a transplant is more likely to be able to live a normal life, and not have to be so careful about the foods he eats.

Post 1
I have a cousin who had kidney problems related to her being overweight, and eventually she developed diabetes. Watching her go through all the symptoms that came with kidney failure was an eye opening experience.

I think we should all learn a little more about how the kidneys work, what they do for us and how we can keep them healthy. Once the kidneys start to fail, your options are few.

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