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Pyonephrosis is a term given to an infection of the kidney with pus in the upper collecting system which can progress to obstruction.
Pyonephrosis may be suspected when the clinical symptoms of fever and flank pain are combined with the radiologic evidence of urinary tract obstruction 1. Debris in the upper collecting system on imaging raises even more suspicion.
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Ultrasound usually shows dilatation of the pelvicalyceal system with the following additional features:
- echogenic debris in the collecting system: considered the most reliable sign 4
- fluid-fluid levels within the collecting system
- incomplete ("dirty") shadows of gas in the collecting system may occasionally be seen
The presence of clinical signs of infection with hydronephrosis on CT is considered a more sensitive indicator of pyonephrosis than many of the CT findings alone 6. In addition to features of obstruction, CT may demonstrate:
- thickening of the renal pelvic wall (>2 mm)
- parenchymal or perinephric inflammatory changes
- dilatation and obstruction of the collecting system
- higher than usual attenuation values of the fluid within the renal collecting system
- gas-fluid levels in the intrarenal collecting system
- layering of contrast material above / anterior to the purulent fluid on excretory studies
A caveat to CT evaluation is that it is often difficult to distinguish simple hydronephrosis from pyonephrosis by fluid attenuation measurements.
MRI may demonstrate features similar to those seen on CT. Some promising preliminary work has been done with both diffusion-weighted imaging and apparent apparent diffusion coefficient maps in an attempt to distinguish hydronephrosis from pyonephrosis, but these techniques require further investigation 4.
Treatment and prognosis
Emergent insertion of a percutaneous nephrostomy to drain the infected collecting system is usually performed after review and close collaboration with a urologist and/or and interventional radiologist.
Complications of pyonephrosis may include 7:
- xanthogranulomatous pyelonephritis
- renal abscess
- perinephric abscess
- fistula to pleura, colon and duodenum
- 1. Yoder IC, Pfister RC, Lindfors KK et-al. Pyonephrosis: imaging and intervention. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1983;141 (4): 735-40. AJR Am J Roentgenol (citation) - Pubmed citation
- 2. Colemen BG, Arger PH, Mulhern CB et-al. Pyonephrosis: sonography in the diagnosis and management. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1981;137 (5): 939-43. AJR Am J Roentgenol (citation) - Pubmed citation
- 3. Yoder IC, Lindfors KK, Pfister RC. Diagnosis and treatment of pyonephrosis. Radiol. Clin. North Am. 1984;22 (2): 407-14. - Pubmed citation
- 4. Craig WD, Wagner BJ, Travis MD. Pyelonephritis: radiologic-pathologic review. Radiographics. 28 (1): 255-77. doi:10.1148/rg.281075171 - Pubmed citation
- 5. Kim SH. Radiology Illustrated: Uroradiology. Springer. (2012) ISBN:3642053211. Read it at Google Books - Find it at Amazon
- 6. Fultz PJ, Hampton WR, Totterman SM. Computed tomography of pyonephrosis. Abdom Imaging. 1993;18 (1): 82-7. - Pubmed citation
- 7. Dähnert W. Radiology Review Manual. (2011) ISBN: 9781451118124