Congenital Bladder Anomalies

Congenital Bladder Anomalies



The two most common congenital bladder abnormalities are exstrophy and congenital diverticula. An exstrophic bladder is one that is open to the outside and turned inside-out, so that its inside is visible at birth, protruding from the lower abdomen. A diverticulum is an extension of a hollow organ, usually shaped like a pouch with a narrow opening.


During fetal development, folds enclose tissues and organs and eventually fuse at the edges to form sealed compartments. Both in the front and the back, folds eventually become major body structures. In the back, the entire spinal column folds in like a pipe wrapped in a pillow. In the front, the entire lower urinary system is folded in.
  • Exstrophy of the bladder represents a failure of this folding process to complete itself, so the organs form with more or less of their front side missing and open to the outside. At the same time, the front of the pelvic bone is widely separated. The abdominal wall is open, too. In fact, the defect often extends all the way to the penis in the male or splits the clitoris in the female.
  • A congenital bladder diverticulum represents an area of weakness in the bladder wall through which extrudes some of the lining of the bladder. (A small balloon squeezed in a fist will create a diverticula-like effect between the fingers.) Bladder diverticula may be multiple, and they often occur at the ureterovesical junction—the entrance of the upper urinary system into the bladder. In this location, they may cause urine to reflux into the ureter and kidney, leading to infection and possible kidney damage.

Causes and symptoms

As with many birth defects, the causes are not well known. Lack of prenatal care and nutrition has been linked to many birth defects, however beyond the avoidance of known teratogens (anything that can cause a birth defect), there is little prevention possible. Exstrophy is rare, occurring in about one in 40,000 births. Diverticula are more common, but less serious.
If left untreated, the patient with bladder exstrophy will have no control over urination and is more likely to develop bladder cancer. Diverticula, particularly if it causes urine reflux, may lead to chronic infection and its subsequent consequences.


A major consideration with congenital abnormalities is that they tend to be multiple. Further, each one is unique in its extent and severity. Exstrophy can involve the rectum and large bowel and coexist with hernias. The obvious bladder exstrophy seen at birth will prompt immediate action and a search for other anomalies.
Diverticula are not visible and will be detected only if they cause trouble. They are usually found in an examination for the cause of recurring urinary infections. X rays of the urinary system or a cystoscopy (examination with a telescope-like instrument) will identify them. Often, the two procedures are done together: a urologist will perform the cystoscopy, then a radiologist will instill a contrast agent into the bladder and take x rays.


Surgery is necessary and can usually produce successful results. If possible, the surgery must be done within 48 hours of birth. Prior to surgery, the exposed organs must be protected and all related defects identified and managed. Delay in the surgery leads to the frequent need to divert the urine into the bowel because the partially repaired bladder cannot control the flow. After surgery, the likelihood of infection requires monitoring.

Alternative treatment

After surgery, ongoing precautions to reduce frequency of infection may need to be used. Cranberry juice has the ability to keep bacteria from adhering to the membranes and can help prevent infection whenever there is increased risk. There are botanical and homeopathic treatments available; however, consultation by a trained practitioner is recommended before treatment.


With immediate surgery, three-quarters of patients can be successfully repaired. They will have control of their urine and no long-term consequences. The rate of infection is greater for those with congenital bladder anomalies, since any abnormality in the urinary system predisposes it to invasion by bacteria.


Birth defects often have no precisely identified cause, therefore, prevention is limited to general measures such as early and continuous prenatal care, appropriate nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle.



Gearhart, John P., and Robert D. Jeffs. "Exstrophyepispadias Complex and Bladder Anomalies." In Campbell's Urology, edited by Patrick C. Walsh, et al. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co., 1998.

Key terms

Congenital — Present at birth.
Cystoscopy — Examination of the urinary bladder with a thin telescope-like instrument.
Diverticulum — A pouch extending from a hollow organ.
Exstrophy — Being turned inside out combined with being outside the body.
Radiologist — A physician who specializes in creating images of the internal organs of the body.
Teratogen — Any agent that can cause birth defects.
Ureter — The tube that transports urine from the kidney to the bladder.
Ureterovesical junction — The joining of the ureter to the bladder.
Urologist — A surgeon who specializes in diseases of the urinary system.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Annual endoscopy and urine cytology for the surveillance of bladder tumors after enterocystoplasty for congenital bladder anomalies. J Urol 2011;186:1791-1795.

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