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Understanding Kidney Infections

Published: October 19, 2020

The urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. And a urinary tract infection or UTI, can impact any component of the urinary tract, including the kidneys. 

What do kidneys do?

We have two kidneys located just below the ribs near the back of our body. They filter blood day in and day out, removing water and waste. The kidneys create urine to excrete this waste and it passes to the bladder and out of the body. (1) 

What causes a kidney infection?

In ideal circumstances, the urinary tract flushes waste out of the body, and keeps infection-causing bacteria out of the tract. But sometimes, bacteria from the digestive tract enters the urethra causing a urinary tract infection. In some cases, this can lead to a bladder infection, and in more extreme cases – kidney infections. (1)

In addition, kidney stones, tumors or physical abnormalities can create blockages in the urinary tract which can cause urine to flow in the wrong direction and cause infection. (1)

What are symptoms of a kidney infection?

Symptoms vary based on the severity of the infection, but can include (2) : 

  1. Frequent urination
  2. Painful urination
  3. Urge to urinate, even with an empty bladder
  4. Fever
  5. Chills
  6. Nausea 
  7. Vomiting
  8. Pain in the back, sides, or groin
  9. Hematuria
  10. Cloudy urine
  11. Urine that smells bad

How are kidney infections diagnosed?

Your doctor will go over the symptoms you’re experiencing, and will likely order urinalysis. A sample of your urine will be tested to determine if an infection is present. In some cases, your physician may also order a urine or blood culture to get a better idea of what type of bacteria is causing the issue, and if the infection has spread from the kidneys to the blood. (1) 

How do you treat a kidney infection?

As with most infections, kidney infections are treated with antibiotics. In many cases, an oral antibiotic is prescribed. But in severe cases, intravenous antibiotics might be required.

How do you prevent a kidney infection?

Some people are more predisposed to urinary tract infections than others. Sometimes the cause is physical, and other times it’s something lifestyle changes can help. Staying hydrated, urinating after sex, and wiping front to back are some of the simple lifestyle adjustments that can help. But discuss your specific case with your physician to see if there are any additional things you should do to prevent a recurrence.

If you suspect a urinary tract infection, or are experiencing urological symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment. Sometimes what starts as a minor UTI that would be easily treated with antibiotics, when left untreated, can travel to your kidneys where it causes a bigger issue.

  1. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-(renal)-infection-pyelonephritis
  2. https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/kidney-problems/kidney-infection.html#who_gets_kidney_infections