Kidney infection, also known as pyelonephritis, is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) caused by E. coli bacteria. If a kidney infection goes untreated, it can lead to chronic kidney disease and blood poisoning.
What is kidney infection?
An essential component of the urinary system, the kidneys filter waste from the body, maintain the proper concentration of electrolytes and regulate blood pressure. When kidney function is impaired due to illness caused by bacteria, it can lead to a kidney infection (pyelonephritis). It is a painful disease that can affect one or both of the kidneys. If the kidney infection is treated immediately, it won’t cause any serious harm; if the infection goes untreated, it can get worse and cause chronic kidney disease.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time. It can eventually lead to renal failure. People are at risk of CKD if they have:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A family member with kidney disease
- Inflammation of the kidney
- Infection of the kidney (pyelonephritis)
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Symptoms of kidney infection
An estimated one in every 830 people develops a kidney infection every year in the UK. Kidney disease is a rare condition that can happen at any age but is common in women. Studies have shown women are six times more prone to kidney infection as compared to men. Because women have a shorter urethra it is easier for bacteria to reach and infect the kidneys. Kidney infection symptoms in women include:
- Urge to urinate frequently
- Painful or burning sensation during urination
- Blood in urine
- Incomplete bladder voiding
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Pain in the lower abdomen
Some of the common kidney infection symptoms include:
- High temperature (may reach 39.50C or 103.10F)1
- Back pain
- Pain in the side
- Pain in the groin
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling very weak or tired
- Feeling sick or being sick
A young child is also vulnerable to kidney infection as he or she may have been born with an abnormality of the urinary tract. It is a condition known as vesico-ureteric reflux, which causes a backflow of urine from the bladder up to the kidneys.
Causes of kidney infections
Women and children are at high risk of developing kidney infection. In women, the urethra is closer to the anus as compared to men, which makes it easier for bacteria to spread to the urethra. From the bladder, bacteria can move quickly to infect the kidneys causing a kidney infection. Pyelonephritis is primarily caused by bacteria found in the stool, like E. coli; bacteria from the skin or environment rarely cause kidney infection.
Here are various other causes of kidney infection:
- People with weak immune systems may have a bacterial or fungal infection on their skin, which eventually gets into their bloodstream and attacks their kidneys, leading to an infection.
- People with diabetes.
- Researchers claim that younger women who are more sexually active have a greater risk of getting a kidney infection.
- People with kidney stones.
- Men with enlarged prostate are at high-risk.
In cases where the kidney infection persists over a long period, it can lead to a more long-term kidney disease, which can be life-threatening.
Treatment of the kidney infections
A general physician will diagnose the condition based on kidney infection symptoms like fever and back pain. He/she may also look out for other kidney infection symptoms while measuring heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and respiratory rate. For a conclusive diagnosis, you may be asked to provide a urine sample that can be tested to determine whether there is an infection.
To treat a kidney infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics as these are the first line of treatment. Drugs to be taken and treatment duration will depend on the bacteria found in your urine tests and a general health examination. Antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin or Co-amoxiclav are usually recommended. If you are pregnant, the doctor may not prescribe these antibiotics but instead recommend a 14-day course of an antibiotic called Cefalexin.
If you want to treat the condition on your own, follow these guidelines:
- Avoid hovering over the toilet seat when you go to the toilet, as it can prevent you from fully emptying your bladder.
- Drink plenty of fluids, as it will prevent dehydration and help flush the bacteria out of your kidneys.
Kidney infection is caused by a pre-existing infection of the urinary tract. It is a condition that can be prevented by expelling bacteria, following the guidelines that have been mentioned above.