Facts about kidney infections

There are many different types of infections that can occur in the urinary tract one of which is a kidney infection.  Anyone who develops a kidney infection needs to be treated right away as there can be a possibility of it turning into a life-threatening problem. 

Our kidneys are one of our hardest working organs in the body.  These two bean-shaped organs sitting opposite of each other on either side of the spine, spend their time extracting waste and extra water from the blood, balancing our body fluids, forming urine, and producing hormones.

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Think of the kidneys sort of like a car’s exhaust system.   You want them in good working order so that waste moves in one direction only – out of the body.  When the kidneys are working fine, we tend to forget how important they are.  But when a kidney infection strikes, it will soon let us know something is wrong and needs our attention.

Causes of a kidney infection

Kidney infections, also known as pyelonephritis, usually develop as a complication of a bladder infection (cystitis).  Bacteria causing a bladder infection can sometimes travel from the anus up the tube called the urethra which urine travels from the bladder out of the body.  The infection in the bladder can then travel up another tube called the ureters which connects the bladder to the kidney resulting in a kidney infection. 

Not all kidney infections are a result of a bladder infection.  Some develop in people who are prone to kidney stones of have an abnormality of the kidney. 

Most kidney infections develop only in one kidney and they are most common in children, the elderly and in pregnant women.  They are considered uncommon in men.  Women are more at risk at the urethra is closer to the anus making it easy for bacteria to go from the bowel to the urethra.  Plus, the urethra is shorter in women than in men making it another reason why bacteria can reach the bladder more readily.

Symptoms of a kidney infection

If the kidneys become infected, symptoms usually develop quickly within a few hours and may include:

·      Pain in the lower back below the rib cage where the kidneys are located

·      A high fever which may cause shivers, chills, malaise

·      Abdominal pain

·      Feeling nauseated and/or having vomiting

·      Diarrhea

·      Blood in the urine

·      Cloudy urine or urine odor

·      Painful urination and having the need to go to the bathroom frequently

Sometimes kidney infection symptoms can be vague and may cause a person to generally feel unwell but not certain why.  In elderly people, it can cause confusion making it important to do a urine test if they suddenly become confused, act differently or act unwell.

Testing for a kidney infection

It is very important if a person has symptoms or signs of a kidney infection to go to their doctor to be tested.  Not doing so could lead to more serious complications as a kidney infection needs to be treated with prescribed medication.

The test used to check for a kidney infection is called a dipstick urine test.  A person will need to see their doctor, giving a urine sample in which the urine will be tested with a special testing strip looking for signs of an infection. 

Treatment for a kidney infection

Once a diagnosis of a kidney infection has been confirmed, a person will be placed on an antibiotic to help kill the bacteria and clear up the infection.  The course of antibiotics is for 7-14 days depending on which one is used.

If a person is experiencing pain or has a high temperature, then a painkiller may be suggested. It is advised not to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen for a kidney infection as they may possibly cause problem with the working of the kidney during a kidney infection. 

Consuming plenty of fluid is recommended to prevent dehydration.

Most people are able to be treated at home if the infection is not too severe.  However, some people may need to be admitted to a hospital if:

·      The infection is severe

·      The person is unable to take fluids to prevent dehydration

·      The symptoms do not go away with antibiotics

·      The person is a pregnant woman

·      The person has underlying kidney problems

·      The person has diabetes

Possible complications from a kidney infection

The vast majority of people who develop a kidney infection will make a full recovery when given the proper treatment.  But there can be possible complications in a small minority of people:

·      If the bacteria from a kidney infection gets into the bloodstream causing blood poisoning or sepsis which can be serious or even life-threatening

·      Pregnant women may go into early labor

·      The infection can sometimes cause permanent damage to kidney tissues

Preventing kidney infections

Since most kidney infections are caused by bacteria coming from a bladder infection, it helps to do the same things that reduce the chance of developing a bladder infection to prevent a kidney infection.  Here are steps to take to reduce the chance of getting a kidney infection:

·      Drink plenty of fluids, especially water which can help remove bacteria from the body during urination.

·      Urinate frequently during the day to flush out bacteria present

·      Empty the bladder after sexual intercourse.  Urinating as soon as possible after intercourse helps clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of an infection.

·      Wipe carefully.  Wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra.

·      Avoid using feminine products in the genital area.  Using products such as deodorant sprays or douches in the genital area can irritate the urethra.