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Kidney Infection: Early Treatment to Avoid Complications
Kidney Infection: Early Treatment to Avoid Complications

Kidney Infection: Early Treatment to Avoid Complications

Kidney infections are a health issue which typically results from an infection in the urinary tract which passes to one or both of the kidneys. The medical term is pyelonephritis and this infection requires medical treatment. If left untreated, the bacteria may spread into the bloodstream leading to a dangerous infection. Kidney infections start by infecting the lower parts of the urinary tract such as the urethra or bladder. These infections take place when bacteria enter into the urinary tract through your urethra. When not treated on time, an infection can result in lasting damage to your kidneys. It is usually painful and can be life-threatening. A UTI can continue moving up your urinary tract and progress from your bladder into the kidneys.

How can you get a kidney infection?

Your kidneys make urine to eliminate waste products from your body. The urine moves into your bladder and then moves through the urethra to leave your body. This usually removes any kind of bacteria and other germs. Sometimes, the bacteria can move upwards into the body and infect parts of the urinary tract such as your bladder or urethra. From there, they can move into one or both of your kidneys, leading to an infection. The bacteria entering your blood from another body part can also infect the kidneys. Possible signs and symptoms of kidney infections:

People usually develop kidney infection symptoms within a day or a few hours. Some symptoms include the following:

  • diarrhoea
  • lower back pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • chills or shivering
  • pain in the groin
  • pain in the side
  • fever

If there is a urinary tract infection (UTI), individuals may experience difficulty or pain while urinating. This is somewhat like a stinging or burning sensation. Other symptoms include:

  • blood in the urine
  • Pain in your lower abdomen
  • foul-smelling urine
  • confusion
  • frequent urination
  • cloudy urine
  • inability to empty the bladder fully

Males versus females with kidney infections

Males and females will have similar symptoms when they suffer from a kidney infection. Females are more likely to suffer from a kidney infection. The urethra of a female is typically shorter than that of a male. The vagina of females is closer to the urethra making it easy for the bacteria to enter your body through the urinary tract. Pregnant females are more susceptible to kidney infections or UTIs. A male below 65 years of age with a UTI will possibly have to rule out other conditions. Doctors may check the person for other types of infection and for any signs of a UTI.

What is the urinary tract?

The urinary tract comprises:

  • Kidneys: Human beings have two kidneys, one on either side of the abdomen. Kidneys liminate toxic substances from your blood.
  • Ureters: The urine passes from your kidneys to the bladder through the tubes known as ureters. Each kidney has one ureter to connect it to the bladder.
  • Bladder: This is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen for storing urine.
  • Urethra: The tube carries urine from the bladder to the outside part of the body. In the case of males, the urethra travels down the middle of the penis to an opening at the end. But for females, the urethra runs from the bladder to above the opening of the vagina. The urethra in females is shorter when compared to males.

How will you know you have a kidney infection?

The doctors conduct tests to diagnose whether you have a kidney infection. Some of these are:

  • Urine tests – To detect bacteria or other signs of infection, such as white blood cells in the urine
  • Blood tests –  Helps to know if the creatinine level is within the normal range.
  • Imaging tests – These look at your kidneys such as a CT scan, ultrasound or X-ray
  • Rectal exam – This test is for men when a doctor inserts a finger into the anus to find out if the prostate gland has been enlarged and blocks urine flow.

How do kidney problems start?

Diabetes is a common cause of kidney disease and this is applicable for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Obesity and heart disease can also contribute to the damage that causes your kidneys to fail. Urinary tract issues and inflammation in different kidney parts can be the reason for functional long-term decline.

Causes of kidney infection

Every person has two fist-sized kidneys in the upper abdomen, one on each side. These filter out waste products from the blood and into your urine. They also regulate the electrolytes and water contained in your blood. Kidney function is necessary for your improved health. Most kidney infections occur due to the viruses or bacteria that enter your kidneys from the urinary tract. A common cause is Escherichia coli (E. coli) where the bacteria remains in the intestine and can enter your urinary tract using the urethra. The urethra is the tube for carrying urine out from the body. The bacteria will then multiply and spread from there to the kidneys and bladder.

Other causes are less common and some of these are:

  • Bacteria from the infection elsewhere in the body - like an artificial joint spreading through the bloodstream into your kidneys.
  • Surgery of the kidneys or bladder.
  • Blocking the flow of urine causes a kidney stone or tumour in the urinary tract, an enlarged prostate in men, or a problem with the shape of the urinary tract.

How to diagnose it

The healthcare expert checks the medical record of a person for certain health conditions that have been linked to kidney infection. Some diagnostic processes include the following:

  • Physical examination: A healthcare professional conducts a physical examination which includes – blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and signs of dehydration. He will assess the mid to lower back for tenderness, sensitivity, or pain.

  • Rectal examination: If the person is male, the medical professional checks for an enlarged prostate blocking the neck of the bladder with a rectal examination.

  • Pelvic examination: If the person is female, the doctor may conduct a pelvic examination to find out if there is a pelvic inflammatory disease. A female may have to perform a pregnancy test.

  • Imaging: The healthcare expert asks for imaging of the kidney area which includes – a CT scan, MRI scan, or ultrasound.

  • Urine sample: The person collects mid-stream urine samples in a container at the laboratory for analysis. If the urine sample has white blood cells and bacteria, it denotes an infection. Both the symptoms and lab results can help with the diagnosis.

What happens next?

Here is what you may expect for a possible kidney infection: 


The healthcare professional conducts a test for your urine to detect any signs of an infection. These tests include:

  • Urinalysis: He will ask you to urinate into a small container. The sample goes to the laboratory where the technicians will test for the presence of bacteria, blood and white blood cells.
  • Urine culture: If the sample detects the presence of bacteria in your urine, your doctor may choose to culture it. This can help to find out what kind of bacteria causes the infection to establish the correct treatment. The turnaround time for a urine culture is usually 24 to 72 hours. The doctor may recommend that you undergo imaging to evaluate your kidneys. In this case, they will order an ultrasound or CT scan to help them make a diagnosis.

What can a kidney infection make you feel like?

The symptoms of kidney infection seem to be for a period of several hours to a day. These symptoms include:

  • Urine changes – When you suffer from a kidney infection, you might notice your urine smells bad, is cloudy or has blood in it.
  • Painful urination – A UTI can irritatean the lining of your urinary tract. Due to this reason, you might have an urgent need to urinate and suffer from a burning and painful sensation.
  • Chills – Chills are about feeling cold without any obvious cause. For example, you might be wrapped up under a blanket and still feel cold or shiver. There are extreme situations when chills can be the reason for uncontrollable shakes and rigours.
  • Pain – This is usually a kind of dull and aching pain commonly affecting the side, back or abdomen.
  • Fever – People who have a kidney infection usually develop a fever, which can be high. Increased temperature is one of the ways your body tries to fight the infection.

How you can treat a kidney infection

Treating a kidney infection can take place on an outpatient basis, which means you can return home afterwards. The treatment for a kidney infection includes:


  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can help to slow down the growth of bacteria or kill bacteria. Make sure you finish the entire course of antibiotics, even when you start to feel better.
  • Fluids: Drinking lots of fluids will help to flush out bacteria from your urinary tract and stay hydrated. You should aim to drink sufficient liquid and keep your urine pale yellow.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: OTC medications like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin can lessen the symptoms such as fever and pain.
  • Rest: Get lots of rest whilst you recover to help your body fight off the infection. Having a severe kidney infection will likely require treatment in the hospital. In this case, you need to take antibiotics and fluid with an intravenous (IV) injection or infusion.

After recovering from a kidney infection, your doctor may request a follow-up urine culture to make sure the infection has completely cleared. If the infection is still present, you may require another antibiotic course to recover completely.

What can happen when you do not undergo treatment?

Without treatment, a kidney infection can be the reason for serious complications. Some of these include:

  • Kidney damage: One of the major complications of untreated kidney infection is scarring or kidney damage. When this takes place, the kidneys might not function well and you might suffer from chronic kidney disease.
  • High blood pressure: Your kidneys work to filter out the waste products from your blood. When a kidney infection damages the blood vessels supplying the kidneys, this can be the reason for high blood pressure.
  • Kidney failure: Serious damage from a kidney infection can be the reason why your kidneys do not function properly. When this occurs, your kidneys won’t be able to filter out the waste products from your blood.
  • Kidney abscess: There are cases when you may suffer from kidney abscess which is a pocket of pus forming in the tissue of your kidneys.
  • Sepsis: If the infection shifts from the kidneys into the bloodstream, sepsis might take place. Signs and symptoms of this serious condition include:
  • High fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • High respiratory rate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Laboratory abnormalities

Aggressive treatment is essential to prevent sepsis from leading to multi-system organ failure and death.

  • Emphysematous pyelonephritis: Emphysematous pyelonephritis is a life-threatening condition which occurs when gas that bacteria produce accumulates in the kidneys. This quickly destroys kidney tissue.

Risk factors

Anyone may suffer from a kidney infection, but certain factors make it more likely:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Nearly 1 out of 30 UTIs cause a kidney infection.
  • Being female: Women are at greater risk of getting kidney infections than men. This is because the urethra is shorter than it is in men. This makes it easy for the bacteria to reach into the urinary tract. Also, the urethra in women is closer to the anus and vagina, enabling bacteria to spread easily to the urinary tract.
  • Pregnancy: The urinary tract shifts at the time of pregnancy which makes it easy for the bacteria to enter into the kidneys.
  • Weakened immune system: People who are suffering from diabetes, HIV or AIDS and taking drugs suppress the immune system.
  • Damage to the nerve damage or spinal cord to the bladder: This will keep you from detecting the signs of a UTI-causing kidney infection.
  • Problems emptying the bladder: This is what you call urinary retention and may happen in people with spina bifida or several sclerosis.
  • Use of a catheter for draining the urine.
  • Urine backup: This happens when the urine backs up to either one or both of your kidneys, rather than normal one-way outflow. It is what you call vesicoureteral reflux and happens most commonly in children.
  • Problems with the shape of the urinary tract.
  • Examination of the bladder with an instrument, a cystoscope.

How to deal with possible complications

If your infection is not treated, there might be serious complications:

  • You may damage your kidneys permanently leading to chronic kidney disease or, kidney failure, in rare cases.
  • The bacteria from your kidneys can poison your bloodstream, leading to life- threatening sepsis.
  • You might suffer from high pressure or develop renal scarring, though it is rare.

When you are pregnant and suffer from a kidney infection, this enhances the risk of a low-weight baby.

Where can you feel kidney pain?

Kidney pain is usually felt in the back, either side of your spine or under the ribs. It may occur due to kidney infection, kidney problems or kidney stones. You should
drink lots of water and avoid urinary tract infections in order to avoid kidney pain.

How to prevent it

A kidney infection occurs due to an underlying infection in the urinary tract. The best way to prevent a kidney infection is by taking the necessary steps to avoid an
infection in the bladder or urethra. Some tips which can prevent a kidney infection are the following:

  • Urination: Urinate whenever there is an urge and make sure you do not wait longer.
  • Sexual intercourse: Urinate after you have sexual intercourse and wash your genitals before and after intercourse.
  • Fibre: Eat lots of fibre so that the stools are passed easily without causing lesions or irritation. Constipation can increase the risk of developing a kidney infection and insufficient fiber has links with kidney stones.
  • FibreHydration: You need to drink lots of fluids.
  • Toilet hygiene: Wipe from the front to the back after passing stools. This can lessen the risk of spreading bacteria to your genitals.
  • Hygiene: Wash the genitals daily and avoid using douche or deodorant sprays on the genitals.

How to recover

You should feel better within a few days after taking antibiotics. Make sure you complete the entire course of antibiotics the doctor prescribes so that the infection does not return. The course of antibiotics can take up to two weeks. A history of UTIs may might out you at greater risk for kidney infections in future.

To lessen the discomfort and pain:

  • Place a heating pad on your back or stomach to get rid of the pain.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication to deal with the symptoms.
  • Drink at least 6-8 eight-ounce glasses of water daily. This can flush out the bacteria into your urinary tract. Alcohol and coffee intake may increase your
    need to urinate.

Does your urine change colour when you have a kidney infection?

You might experience cloudy or dark reddish-brown urine with a kidney infection. If you have not seen a doctor or have not yet had an infection diagnosed, then you should see a doctor promptly.

How can you improve your kidney health?

Certain changes in lifestyle habits can be beneficial for your overall health. This includes daily exercise and staying hydrated which can leave a great impact on your kidney health. You should avoid smoking and see a doctor for routine checkups to evaluate your blood pressure. If you are at greater risk for kidney infections, then you should test and monitor your kidneys properly.

How long can a kidney infection last?

Most people start feeling better after they take prescribed antibiotics for a few days. Antibiotics are generally prescribed for a course of 2 weeks. It is important to take the entire course even when you feel better before you are done.

What is my outlook after a kidney infection?

By undergoing prompt antibiotic treatment, the outlook for people with a kidney infection is good. Certain factors might increase the risk of serious complications. People who are at greater risk include:

  • Individuals with Diabetes
  • Older Adults
  • People with Kidney Disease or Urinary Tract Condition
  • Pregnant People
  • Those with a Weakened Immune System

When you need to see a private doctor in London

When you do not seek medical advice, chances are you might develop serious complications. You need to contact a private GP in London when you:

  • Suffer from extreme pain in the mid to lower back or side
  • Have a fever or feel shivery
  • Experience nausea or feel sick

Key Takeaways

A kidney infection may lead to several conditions and the common among them is a UTI. Females of all age groups and males above 65 years will probably contract a kidney infection. Most kidney infections will resolve on their own with lots of fluids, including water, and antibiotics courses. Some people may need to undergo
further treatment. A person has to consult with a medical professional when they detect a kidney infection. Some infections can be the reason for serious conditions requiring hospital treatment.

A person can lessen the chances of contracting a kidney infection by:

  • Wiping front to back after passing stools
  • Maintaining good hygiene and good toilet habits after passing stools
  • Urinating and washing the genitals after having sexual intercourse

Home remedies can be used as a complementary treatment to lessen other symptoms. Make sure you ask the doctor before using them to ensure they do not interfere with your treatment.