Kidney Infections: Sign, Causes and Treatments 101

A kidney infection (pyelonephritis) results from a that generally begins in the urethra or bladder and travels to one or both of your kidneys. 

Kidney infection therefore results from UTI when it's left untreated or is particularly virulent - check out our article on urinary tract infections for more information.

Although painful at first, kidney infections can be treated with antibiotics in most cases. However, if left untreated, they can cause life-threatening illness (sepsis) and permanent kidney damage.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of a kidney infection, it’s vitally important that they seek urgent medication attention.

Keep reading to find out how to spot signs of a kidney infections, learn its causes and find out how to treat it.

Causes and symptoms

Kidney infection symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a kidney infection can appear within a few hours of a urinary tract infection (UTI). You may feel feverish, shivery and nauseous, with pain in the back or side being common. In addition, typical symptoms of a urinary tract infection, are frequent:
  1. The urge to urinate more than usual
  2. Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  3. Smelly or cloudy urine colour
  4. Blood in your urine
If you are worried about your urge to urinate resulting in little leaks, then be sure to look at TENA’s full range of products. We have incontinence products for men and women available in a range of sizes and fits and suitable for varying levels of incontinence.
Kidney infection causes

So, how exactly do you get a kidney infection? There are a couple of causes.

  1. Consequence of a UTI. This usually happens when bacteria gets into the urethra (the tube that carries the urine out of your body). Bacteria travel up to your bladder, which in turn causes cystitis, and then up towards the kidneys. Kidney infections occur in women occur far more than in men. This is due to a woman’s urethra being shorter, meaning it is easier for bacteria to reach the kidneys.

  2. Consequence of kidney stones, diabetes or a weakened immune system. Acute kidey infections can also develop without a bladder infection. Examples of this include if you suffer from kidney stones, diabetes or a weakened immune system.

Treatment and diagnosis

Diagnosing a kidney infection

To work out whether you have a kidney infection, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and recent medical history. 
Standard procedure for diagnosing a kidney infection involves carrying out a urine test to see whether you have a UTI. However, if you are male with a confirmed UTI, a GP will refer you straight to a urologist for further investigation as it quite uncommon for men to contract kidney infections.

Treating a kidney infection

In terms of how to treat a kidney infection, most cases need immediate antibiotics. They will stop the infection from damaging the kidneys further or heading to the bloodstream.

Painkillers can also provide some relief of symptoms. Paracetamol, taken up to 4 times a day, should reduce the pain and high temperature. Paracetamol is usually recommended over ibuprofen or aspirin.

Recovery time from kidney infection may vary depending on its severity. Symptoms might start to clear up within a few days of treatment but you may still need to take antibiotics for a week or so after, and it’s important that you finish the course of antibiotics. Most people who receive treatment promptly will feel better again after 2 weeks, however those with pre-existing conditions may take longer to recover.

Other kidney infection FAQs

Kidney infection: when to go to hospital

If your symptoms don’t subside after 24 hours of taking antibiotics or if you have a weakened immune system, you may be admitted to hospital and treated with antibiotics through a drip. Other instances in which you should go to hospital are if you have kidney stones, a urinary catheter, diabetes or an underlying condition like polycystic kidney disease. This is because doctors need to take extra precautions if you are vulnerable to infection. Children and people aged over 65 with a kidney infection are also recommended to go to the hospital.

Kidney infection during pregnancy

Getting a kidney infection during pregnancy can be quite dangerous as it may cause you to go into labour prematurely or to have a low birthweight baby. Therefore, it is really important to catch it soon and start treatment promptly. You might be more likely to get admitted into hospital as doctors can take urine and blood samples regularly. You’ll also be advised on the best antibiotics to take during pregnancy which, if you’re admitted to hospital, will probably be administered to you through a drip.
Feeling a frequent and painful need to urinate is one of the symptoms of kidney infection particularly during pregnancy. However it is important to remember that the baby’s weight on your bladder can also cause an urge to use the toilet more often as well, so why not take a look at our guide on pregnancy and incontinence?

What to eat and drink with a kidney infection

Learn what to avoid with a kidney infection  and what is instead recommended to eat or drink:

  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Avoid alcohol and coffee – kidneys help to filter out harmful toxins and substances, drinking these liquids might require the kidneys to work harder and it may affect your healing process. However, you might be wondering: can alcohol cause kidney infection ? The answer is no, as there’s no evidence that can prove otherwise.
  3. Take probiotics – as antibiotics might get rid of “good” and “bad” bacteria, probiotics will help to restore a healthy balance.
  4. Try vitamin C – its antioxidant powers help protect the body from oxidative stress which promotes kidney health.

How to prevent a kidney infection 

To prevent kidney infections in the future, there are a few steps you can take:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids.
  2. Keep your genitals clean (especially after going to the bathroom). 
  3. You should always wipe from front to back.
  4. Don’t hold it in - pee as soon as you need to.
  5. Urinate after having sex. 

We hope you have found our guide on the signs and treatments of kidney infections useful. If you are struggling with other bladder related issues, be sure to take a look at our full selection of articles. We cover everything from syndrome to neurogenic bladders.