Ectopic ureter

Last revised by Mostafa Elfeky on 11 Jan 2024

An ectopic ureter is a congenital renal anomaly that occurs as a result of abnormal caudal migration of the ureteral bud during its insertion to the urinary bladder. Normally the ureter drains via the internal ureteral orifice at the trigone of the urinary bladder

In females, the most common sites for ureter insertion are the bladder neck and upper urethra (33%), vaginal vestibule between the urethra and introitus (33%), vagina (25%), and cervix and uterus (<5%) 5

In males, the ureter may insert into the lower urinary bladder, posterior urethra, seminal vesicle, ductus deferens, ejaculatory duct, and rarely the rectum.

The incidence of ectopic ureters is 1 in 1900, but may be higher because it is often underdiagnosed when asymptomatic, especially in males. It more common in females, F:M = 10:1.

  • may be solitary or a part of complex congenital anomalies, e.g. VACTERL
  • approximately 80% associated with duplex kidneys

Patients are symptomatic when the ureter inserts beyond the external urethral sphincter. 

Failure of separation of ureteral bud from Wolffian duct results in caudal ectopia.

In the case with complete duplication, it obeys the Weigert-Meyer rule - the ureter drains the upper moiety inserts more medial and more inferior to the lower moiety ureter and liable for obstruction while the lower moiety ureter is liable for reflux.

Patients are symptomatic when the ureter inserts beyond the external urethral sphincter. 

It can detect abnormal ureteral insertion and associated anomalies e.g. renal duplication. In complete duplex kidney and ureter, the ectopic ureter usually drains the upper moiety and associated with ureterocele and obstruction.

Usually, the ectopic ureter is associated with vesicoureteric reflux, which can be detected and graded with VCUG.

Associations and complications such as duplex kidneys, hydronephrosis and ureterocele can be also be assessed. 

With the use of heavy T2 weighted imaging, the ureter and its insertion may be visualized.

MRI is also useful in the detection of other anomalies e.g. renal duplication, ureterocele and vertebral anomalies

The more distal the insertion, the worse the prognosis. 

Imaging differential considerations include:

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