Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)

kidney infection

What causes a kidney infection?

Most kidney infections develop as a complication of cystitis (bladder infection). Bacteria causing cystitis can sometimes travel up to infect a kidney. The bacteria are usually those which live in the bowel. They can travel from the anus, up the urethra, into the bladder and cause a bladder infection. This infection can then travel up to cause a kidney infection. People are more prone to kidney infections if they have a kidney stone or an abnormality of the kidney.

It is usually only one kidney that develops an infection. A kidney infection can occur at any age. It is much more common in women. Kidney infections are also more common in children and during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection?

  • Pain in a loin.
  • High temperature  which may cause shivers.
  • Feeling sick (nausea), vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
  • Blood in the urine.

Do I need any tests?

A simple test that your doctor can do is called a dipstick urine test. This involves testing a sample of your urine with a special testing strip to look for signs of infection. Your doctor will need to send your urine sample to the laboratory so that the bacterium can be identified and tests can be done to see which antibiotics will kill it.

Further tests may be advised in some situations - for example, if you have a kidney stone or a kidney abnormality is suspected.

What is the treatment for a kidney infection?

Antibiotics will usually clear the infection. An antibiotic is usually prescribed straightaway if a kidney infection is suspected, even before the result of the urine test is known. The course of antibiotics is for 7-14 days, depending on which one is used.

Painkillers such as paracetamol can ease pain and reduce a high temperature (fever).
Lots of fluid should be taken to prevent dehydration.
In many cases, the infection is not too severe, treatment can be taken at home and the infection will clear with a course of antibiotic tablets.

However, some people need to be admitted to hospital - for example, if:

  • the infection is severe; or
  • does not settle quickly with antibiotics; or
  • they are otherwise frail; or
  • They have underlying kidney problems.

Are there any complications from a kidney infection?

Most people who develop a kidney infection make a full recovery if treatment is given promptly.

Possible complications:

  • Sometimes bacteria from a kidney infection get into the bloodstream, particularly if treatment is delayed.
  • A kidney abscess can develop.
  • The infection can sometimes cause some permanent damage to kidney tissues.

Can kidney infection be prevented?

Some of the things that may help include the following:

  • Don't hold on to urine when you feel the need to pass urine. Go to the toilet promptly.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids every day to keep yourself well hydrated.
  • Treat any constipation promptly, as constipation can increase your chances of a bladder or kidney infection.
  • Empty your bladder after having sex.

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