Kidney infections may occur in one or both kidneys.
The kidneys remove waste from the body through urine. They also balance the water and mineral content in the blood. An infection may prevent them from working properly.
Anatomy of the Kidney
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Kidney infections are caused by a bacteria. The specific type of bacteria can vary. The bacteria most often comes from an untreated
Bacteria may be introduced to the urinary tract and ultimately the kidneys by:
- Sexual activity
Conditions that block or slow the flow of urine such as:
- Enlarged prostate gland
- Kidney stones
- Birth defect of the urinary tract, including vesicoureteral reflux
Having a test to examine the bladder—cystoscopy
- Catheter or stent placed in the urinary tract
- Conditions that impair bladder emptying like multiple sclerosis and spina bifida
Other medical conditions that increase your risk of infection include:
Symptoms of kidney infection may include:
- Pain in the abdomen, lower back, side, or groin
- Frequent urination
- Urgent urination that produces only a small amount of urine
- Sensation of a full bladder—even after urination
- Burning pain with urination
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pus and blood in the urine
- Loss of appetite
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A kidney infection is diagnosed with
urine tests. The urine is examined for:
- Bacteria or other signs of infection
- Other abnormal elements
You may need further tests if the infection does not go away with treatment or if you have had several infections. These tests will be done to see if there are problems with the kidney, ureters, and bladder. Images of these structures can be taken by:
Complications from untreated or poorly treated kidney infection can lead to:
- A serious infection that spreads throughout the body—sepsis
- Chronic infection
- Severe kidney disease, which may result in scarring of tissue or permanent damage
You will be treated with antibiotics. Be sure to take all of the medication. Antibiotics may need to be delivered through an IV. This may require a stay in the hospital.
Surgical correction of vesicoureteral reflux in children may reduce risk for pyelonephritis.
Since kidney infection is often a complication of a bladder infection. You can prevent bladder infections if you:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Cranberry juice is a good choice to prevent bladder infection.
- Practice good hygiene.
- Urinate when you need to.
- Take showers rather than baths.
- Wipe from the front to the back after using the toilet.
- Urinate before and after sex. Drink water to help flush bacteria.
- Avoid genital deodorant sprays and douches.
- Circumcision in men is associated with a reduced risk of bladder infection
Complicated urinary tract infection (UTI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 1, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2014.
Pyelonephritis: Kidney infection.
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases and Information Clearinghouse website. Available at:
http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/pyelonephritis/index.aspx. Updated June 11, 2012. Accessed August 13, 2014.
Uncomplicated urinary tract infection (UTI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 16, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2014.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) in men. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 27, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2014.
3/6/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Nikolaidis P, Casalino DD, Remer EM. American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria Acute Pyelonephritis. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at:
http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=37923. Updated 2012.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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