If you really want to learn about kidney infections-causes, complications, treatment and prevention (and if you’re diabetic, it’s a must), here’s a chance to brush up, with prevention in mind, as always.
A kidney infection, formally named “pyelonephritis” is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that usually starts in your urethra or bladder and travels to one or both of your kidneys.
This type of infection requires early medical attention. If not treated correctly, pyelonephritis can cause permanent damage to your kidneys or the bacteria can spread to your bloodstream, which results in a life-threatening situation.
Symptoms of a kidney infection might include:
- Back, side (flank) or groin pain
- Abdominal pain
- Frequent urination
- Strong, persistent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation or pain when urinating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pus or blood in your urine (hematuria)
- Bacteria that enter your urinary tract through the tube that carries urine from your body (the urethra) can multiply and travel to your kidneys. This is the most common cause of kidney infections.
- Bacteria from an infection elsewhere in your body can also spread through your bloodstream to your kidneys.
Although it’s unusual to develop a kidney infection, it can happen — for instance, if you have an artificial joint or heart valve that becomes infected.
Kidney infections rarely result after kidney surgery.
Factors that increase your risk of a kidney infection include:
➡ Being female. The urethra is shorter in women than it is in men, which makes it easier for bacteria to travel from outside the body to the bladder.
- The nearness of the urethra to the vagina and anus also creates more opportunities for bacteria to enter the bladder.
Once in the bladder, an infection can spread to the kidneys. Pregnant women are at even higher risk of a kidney infection.
➡ Enlarged prostate: Males with an enlarged prostate have a higher risk of developing kidney infections.
➡ Sexually active females: If sexual intercourse irritates the urethra there may be a higher risk of bacteria getting inside the urinary tract and eventually reaching the kidneys.
➡ Weakened immune systems: Some patients with weakened immune systems may have a bacterial or fungal infection on their skin, which eventually gets into the bloodstream and attacks the kidneys.
- This includes medical conditions that impair your immune systems, such as Diabetes and HIV. Certain medications, such as drugs taken to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, have a similar effect.
➡ Having a urinary tract blockage. This includes anything that slows the flow of urine or reduces your ability to empty your bladder when urinating — including a kidney stone, something abnormal in your urinary tract’s structure or, in men, an enlarged prostate gland.
➡ Having damage to nerves around the bladder. Nerve or spinal cord damage can block the sensations of a bladder infection so that you’re unaware when it’s advancing to a kidney infection.
➡ Using a urinary catheter for a time. Urinary catheters are tubes used to drain urine from the bladder. You might have a catheter placed during and after some surgical procedures and diagnostic tests. You might use one continuously if you’re confined to a bed.
➡ Having a condition that causes urine to flow the wrong way. This is called “vesicoureteral reflux“ and happens when small amounts of urine flow from your bladder back up into your ureters and kidneys.
People with this condition are at higher risk of kidney infections during childhood and adulthood.
There are two types of kidney infection:
➡ Uncomplicated kidney infection: The patient is healthy and serious complications are highly unlikely.
➡ Complicated kidney infection: The patient is more likely to suffer complications, perhaps because of a pre-existing illness or condition.
If a kidney infection is not treated promptly, there is a risk of serious complications, including:
➡ Emphysematous pyelonephritis (EPN): This is a very rare, potentially fatal complication.
- EPN is a severe infection in which kidney tissues are destroyed rapidly. The bacteria cause the infection to release a toxic gas that accumulates inside the kidney, causing fever, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and confusion.
➡ Kidney abscesses: Pus accumulates in kidney tissues in abscesses. Symptoms include blood in urine, weight loss, and abdominal pain. Sometimes surgery is needed to drain out the pus.
➡ Blood poisoning, or sepsis: Also a rare but possibly life-threatening complication, sepsis leads to bacteria spreading from the kidneys into the bloodstream, resulting in infections in any part of the body, including major organs. It is a medical emergency and patients are usually placed in an intensive care unit (ICU).
When to call and see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have worrisome signs or symptoms. A kidney infection can develop quickly and lead to serious complications.
Medical help is needed if there is:
- Persistent pain
- A high temperature-fever
- A change in urination patterns
- Blood in the urine
If you’re being treated for a urinary tract infection but your signs and symptoms aren’t improving, make an appointment.
Severe kidney infections can lead to life-threatening complications.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have kidney infection symptoms combined with bloody urine or nausea and vomiting.
It all starts and ends with prevention, always. Reduce your risk of kidney infection by taking steps to prevent urinary tract infections.
Men and women, in particular, may cut their risk of urinary tract infections by:
➡ Drinking fluids, especially water. Fluids can help remove bacteria from your body when you urinate.
➡ Urinating as soon as you need to. Avoid delaying urination when you feel the urge to urinate.
➡ Emptying the bladder after intercourse. Urinating as soon as possible after intercourse helps clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of infection.
➡ Wiping carefully. Wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra.
➡ Avoiding the use of “feminine products” in the genital area. Using products such as deodorant sprays in your genital area or douches can be irritating.
To confirm that you have a kidney infection and test for bacteria, you’ll probably be expected to give a urine sample. The test will also check for blood or pus in your urine.
➡ A blood sample may be taken for a culture — a lab test that checks for bacteria or other organisms in your blood.
➡ Other tests might include an Ultrasound, A CT scan or a type of X-ray called a “voiding cystourethrogram” which involves injecting a contrast dye to take X-rays of the bladder when full and while urinating.
Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for kidney infections. Which drugs you use and for how long will depend on your overall health, any preëxisting conditions and the bacteria found in your urine tests.
- Usually, the signs and symptoms of a kidney infection begin to clear up within a few days of treatment. But you might need to continue antibiotics for a week or longer. Take the entire course of antibiotics recommended by your doctor even after you feel better.
Your doctor might recommend a repeat urine culture to make sure the infection has cleared. If the infection is still present, you’ll need another round of antibiotics.
A severe or uncontrolled kidney infection may require admission to a hospital. Treatment usually includes antibiotics and intravenous (IV) fluids. The severity of the infection will determine the length of your hospital stay.
Treatment For Recurrent Kidney Infections
An underlying medical problem such as a misshapen urinary tract can be the source of repeated infections, requiring a visit to a kidney specialist (a Nephrologist) or urinary surgeon (a Urologist) for an evaluation. And, surgery may be necessary if the problem is a structural abnormality.
Lifestyle And Home Remedies
To lessen discomfort while you recover from a kidney infection, you might:
- Apply heat. Place a heating pad on your abdomen, back or side to ease the pain.
- Use pain medicine. For fever or discomfort, take a non-aspirin pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil, others).
- Stay hydrated. Drinking fluids will help flush bacteria from your urinary tract.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol until your infection has cleared. Both can uncomfortably make you feel that you need to urinate often.
Preparing For Your Doctor’s Appointment
You’ll probably start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. If your doctor suspects your infection has spread to your kidneys, he/she should refer you to a kidney specialist.
What YOU can do
When you make your appointment, ask if there’s anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet for certain tests.
Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment, and when they began
- Key personal information, including recent life changes, such as a new sexual partner, and whether you’ve had earlier urinary tract or kidney infections
- All medications, vitamins and other supplements you take, including the prescribed doses
- Questions to ask your doctor
A well-prepared patient gets the best results. Don’t make your doctor try to read your mind. Tell them everything, even if it seems unimportant to you.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you’re given.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is the most likely cause of my kidney infection?
- What tests do I need?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- What are the potential side effects of treatment?
- Will I need to be hospitalized?
- How can I prevent future kidney infections?
- I have other health conditions. How can I manage them together?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have?
Don’t hesitate to ask other questions.
This is what to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
➡ Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
➡ How severe are your symptoms?
➡ What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
➡ What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
And if he or she does not ask these questions, volunteer the information and seriously consider discussing your expectations for treatment with him/her or a different physician.
Remember, your health starts out in YOUR hands, be sure you place it in qualified ones.