What Is Kidney Dysplasia?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on July 07, 2023
4 min read

Actress Sarah Hyland made headlines in 2018 when she revealed that she had undergone her second kidney transplant. The Modern Family star was born with a condition called kidney dysplasia. Her kidneys did not develop typically, and as she grew older, they started to fail.

In 2012, Hyland’s father donated a kidney to his daughter. After four years, her body rejected the transplanted organ, and she needed dialysis treatment for kidney failure. In 2017, her brother donated a kidney for her second transplant, which has been successful so far.

Kidney dysplasia is not uncommon. By some estimates, 1 in 4000 babies is born with the condition. In many cases, it only affects one kidney and causes no health issues. Other times, both kidneys are involved, and medical treatment is needed.

Kidneys are fist-sized organs that work as filters for your body. Blood flows through the kidneys, and they remove waste and excess water. This waste then leaves the body as urine.

Kidney dysplasia develops before you are born. Typically, an unborn baby’s kidneys form between the 5th and 12th weeks of pregnancy. The bean-shaped organs are connected to tubes called the ureters. The ureters branch out into the kidneys and form a network of tubules that are meant to hold urine.

With kidney dysplasia, the tubules don’t form, and there is no place to store urine. The urine backs up and forms cysts on the kidneys. The cysts replace normal kidney tissue and prevent kidneys from working properly.

Kidney dysplasia can be a result of genetic factors. It can also be a symptom of other syndromes that affect multiple systems in the body. In some cases, kidney dysplasia can be a result of taking certain drugs or prescription medications during pregnancy.

Kidney dysplasia affects different people in different ways. Some people never know they have a kidney disorder at all. Others need lifelong treatment for the condition.‌‌

Mild kidney dysplasia. Sometimes, kidney dysplasia only affects one kidney. The other kidney develops normally and functions fine.  When this happens, you might not have any symptoms or complications from the condition. People can live full lives with only one kidney, as long as the single kidney works properly.

Severe kidney dysplasia. If both kidneys are affected, you will likely have health issues that need treatment. You will need to see a doctor who specializes in kidney conditions who will monitor how well your kidneys work. If your kidneys start to fail, you will need treatment that might include dialysis or kidney transplant.

Doctors can often see kidney dysplasia during a routine ultrasound during pregnancy. If doctors suspect kidney dysplasia, they will talk to the expectant parents about the condition before the baby is born. Your child’s doctors may keep an eye out for signs of kidney problems as they grow up.

Other times, doctors don’t suspect kidney dysplasia until symptoms arise. Symptoms of kidney failure include:

If your doctor suspects you have kidney failure, they will order blood and urine tests. They will also use an ultrasound to look at your kidneys. The ultrasound may show signs of damage or dysplasia.

If you only have one kidney with dysplasia, you may not need any treatment at all. If you start to have kidney problems, there are several different treatments.

Lifestyle management. If you have a more severe case of dysplasia, your doctor will monitor your health closely. In addition to checking kidney function, they will track other possible complications of kidney desolation, such as anemia or high blood pressure. You might need medication to treat symptoms. You may need to be on a limited diet to reduce the risk of kidney damage.

Dialysis. If your kidneys stop working well, you may need dialysis. This is a treatment where a machine cleans your blood to remove the waste that your kidneys normally filter. Dialysis takes several hours per treatment, and most people need three or more treatments per week.

Kidney Transplant. In the most severe cases, you might need a kidney transplant. In this situation, a living donor with blood and tissue types that match yours can donate one of their kidneys to you. Family members are often the best matches.

Any organ transplant is major surgery. After the transplant, you will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of your life so that your body doesn’t attack the new organ. After a successful transplant, your health should improve.

If you have kidney dysplasia, your doctor can tell you how best to manage the condition.