Becky Yoza, DNP

Becky has 14 years combined experience in medical/surgical and emergency nursing. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate nursing at Hawaii Pacific University. Originally a sociologist, Becky trained as a nurse to gain knowledge for her research, but she ended up loving nursing so much she never went back! Born and raised in Michigan, Becky has lived in Hawaii since 2010 and never wants to leave.


Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)

Pyelonephritis refers to an infection in the kidneys. Most times, doctors treat kidney infections with antibiotics and painkillers. However, it could become a serious illness. To note, complications include severe kidney damage. Additionally, infection could spread through the body. We know this as sepsis. Kidney infection symptoms and treatment are as follows.

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Causes of a kidney infection

Causes of a kidney infection

Most times, bladder infections cause kidney infections. We also know this as cystitis. Specifically, bacteria travels up the ureter from the bladder to the kidney. However, not all kidney infections are from bladder infections. Kidney stones or other abnormalities of the kidney can cause a kidney infection too.

Typically, kidney infection affects one kidney. It can occur at any age. Also, it is more common in women as bladder infections are more common in women. The proximity of the urethra to the anus causes women to be at higher risk for developing a kidney infection. As a result, it easier for the bacteria to get from the bowels to the bladder in women. Furthermore, children, pregnant women and elderly people are more likely to suffer from kidney infections. We detail kidney infection symptoms and treatment below.

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection?

Symptoms of a kidney infection progress over a few hours and may include, for instance:

  • Firstly, one may experience pain in a loin or flank.
  • High fever along with shivering
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Also, you could notice blood in the urine.
  • Pain while urinating
  • Lastly, a common symptom is frequent urination.

To note, all symptoms may not develop. Additionally, some people may only feel unwell or confused. Therefore, a urine test is often necessary to diagnose the condition. In brief, a urinalysis confirms infection if complains of symptoms.

Do I need any tests?

The simplest test is a dipstick urine test. This test involves testing a sample of your urine for bacteria that shows kidney infection. If bacteria is found, the sample will be sent for further analysis. This is to determine which exact bacteria is causing the infection, which will allow the doctor to prescribe the correct antibiotic. This helps with kidney infection symptoms and treatment.

A urine test may be the only test that is required, however, if you suffer from kidney stones you may be required to take an ultrasound scan. You may also need an ultrasound scan if some other kidney abnormality is suspected too.

What is the treatment for a kidney infection?

Treatment for kidney infection includes the following. For instance:

  • Typically, doctors’ prescribe antibiotics once they suspect kidney infection. However, bacteria respond to different antibiotics. Furthermore, some bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics. In these cases, doctors will change your antibiotics based on the urine test. Of note, usually doctors prescribe ciprofloxacin, co-amoxiclav or trimethoprim for a duration of 7-14 days.
  • Additionally, paracetamol is prescribed for pain relief. Additionally, it reduces fever. For severe pain, painkillers may be needed. However, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen are not recommended for kidney infections. This is because they could hamper the working of the kidneys.
  • Consume lots of fluids to prevent dehydration

In most cases, treatment can be done at home. Contact a doctor if the symptoms do not improve after 24 hours. You may need to be admitted to a hospital if you have the following. For instance:

  • If you are unable to take in any fluids due to extreme vomiting.
  • The infection is severe.
  • Symptoms do not settle within 24 hours after starting antibiotics
  • You are pregnant
  • You have other medical complications, including an underlying kidney problem or diabetes.

What are possible complications?

Most people make a complete recovery with just antibiotics. However, there can be complications. These include, for instance:

  • Sepsis- bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause problem.
  • Additionally, pregnant women may experience premature birth or have babies with lower birth weight.
  • Kidney abscess
  • Lastly, permanent damage to kidney tissues to ensue.

Of note, these complications are more likely if the infection is severe. Also, it’s more prevalent in those who with existing kidneys problems, too. In addition, people immunocompromised from chemotherapy or AIDS are also prone to developing complications. Lastly, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with poorly controlled diabetes could also be at risk of developing complications.

A rare complication is emphysematous pyelonephritis. This is when the kidney tissues are rapidly destroyed. This complication seems mostly to affect people who have poorly controlled diabetes.

How to prevent kidney infection?

  • Firstly, treat constipation promptly.
  • Secondly, seek medical advice for kidney stones.
  • Finally, test your urine regularly for infection during pregnancy.

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