Medicolegal Issues

Urinary Tract Infections Do Not Play a Significant Role in Chronic Kidney Disease


Clinical question: What is the association between childhood urinary tract infections (UTIs) and chronic kidney disease (CKD)?

Background: A traditional paradigm in pediatrics is that CKD might be caused by renal scarring as a result of recurrent UTIs, particularly in the presence of vesicoureteral reflux (VUR). Increasingly, this has been called into question as nonintervention for low-grade VUR has not impacted clinical outcomes.

Study design: Retrospective cohort and systematic literature review.

Setting: Tertiary-care hospital in Finland and PubMed database.

Synopsis: A search of the PubMed database for articles published from 1966 to 2009 relating to a potential association between CKD and UTIs yielded 10 studies reporting on 1,576 patients with UTIs and long-term evaluation for CKD. Only three of the 1,576 patients had childhood UTIs without structural kidney abnormalities as a potential cause of the CKD. VUR was not considered a structural abnormality. The authors note that no data on kidney morphology prior to UTI recurrence were available in these cases.

At the same time, the study authors reviewed the records of 366 patients with CKD at a tertiary-care hospital in Finland. They excluded 308 patients with defined noninfectious causes of CKD. Of the 58 remaining patients, three potentially had recurrent UTIs as a contributing cause to eventual CKD. All three patients had structurally abnormal kidneys on first radiologic examination, possibly suggesting pre-existing renal anomalies. The potential association between recurrent childhood UTIs without structural abnormalities and CKD appears to be less than 1%.

Limitations of this study include its retrospective design and incomplete characterization systematic review. Nevertheless, the study appears to support recent work that childhood UTIs without underlying kidney abnormalities are unlikely to result in permanent renal damage.

Bottom line: Childhood UTIs, without structural kidney abnormality, are not a significant cause of chronic kidney disease in adults.

Citation: Salo J, Ilkäheimo R, Tapiainen T, Uhari M. Childhood urinary tract infections as a cause of chronic kidney disease. Pediatrics. 2011;128:840-847.

Reviewed by Pediatric Editor Mark Shen, MD, FHM, medical director of hospital medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center, Austin, Texas.

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