Many women and men are predisposed to urinary tract infections (UTIs). While treatment is simple for these types of infections, they can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. A UTI is also known as cystitis, and it is an infection of the urinary tract and bladder.  A kidney infection is actually a type of UTI since these organs are so interconnected. Without treatment, a kidney infection can become progressively worse and pose health risks. Read on to learn more about UTIs and kidney infections, the risk factors for each, and what treatment options are available.

What Is the Function of the Kidneys?

The kidney is a vitally important organ that provides many important functions for the body. Some of its primary functions include:

  • Filtration of waste products out of the blood
  • Regulation of blood pressure through the excretion of waste products
  • Maintaining electrolyte balance (making sure sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and chloride are all at steady levels in the body)
  • Production of blood cells

The kidneys are located near the lower back and are connected to the bladder with ureters. Each kidney is connected with one ureter, which is a long, connective tube. The function of the ureters is to help move urine through the urinary tract from the kidneys to the bladder, a process well-known as urination. Collectively, all of these connectors and organs comprise what is commonly referred to as the urinary tract. 

What Is a Kidney Infection?

Any infection of the urinary tract or any of its organs is referred to as a UTI. There is a broad range of urinary tract infections, including:

  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis)
  • Uncomplicated bladder infection (cystitis)
  • Recurrent cystitis
  • Prostate infection (prostatitis)
  • Catheter-associated UTI (for patients who have catheters)

Urinary tract infections can also be generally assigned into two groups. A patient may have an upper urinary tract infection, which refers only to the kidneys, or a lower urinary tract infection, which includes the prostate, urethra, and bladder.

When any part of the urinary tract is infected, symptoms are generally noticeable and painful. Those who have recurrent kidney infections or UTIs may need to have more aggressive treatment, but treatment is usually simple and uncomplicated. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Infection?

It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of women and 10 percent of men will have a kidney infection in their lifetime. The symptoms are so easy to spot that once a patient has had a UTI, it’s pretty easy to tell when an infection has returned. Some of the most common symptoms of kidney infection include burning with urination (dysuria), flank pain (which usually manifests by presenting as dull, lower back pain), frequent urination or the feeling you need to expel your bladder but can’t, blood in the urine, foul-smelling or cloudy urine, nausea and vomiting, fever, and chills. 

It is also possible for children to have a kidney infection or UTI, and a child age 2 or under may have trouble expressing pain or other symptoms. In young children, a kidney infection may only present with high fever, so it is crucial to have a child with fever evaluated by a healthcare provider, particularly if you notice changes in their urination habits.

It is important to ensure that anyone of any age group gets treated for UTI as soon as possible. Kidney infections can progress to serious complications such as sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Confusion

If you suspect you may have sepsis, go to the emergency room immediately.

What Are the Causes of Kidney Infection?

Bacteria cause kidney infections. While it is the function of the kidneys to filter waste products out of the body, sometimes bacteria can enter the kidneys via the urethra, which causes infection. The most common culprit of kidney infections is Escherichia coli (E. coli). E. coli is regularly found in the intestine but can find its way into the urethra sometimes. Once the bacteria enter the bladder, urethra, or kidneys, they multiply quickly, causing pain and other symptoms. 

It is possible to contract a kidney infection through other means, but these are less likely. A problem with the shape of the urinary tract in men and women and an enlarged prostate in men can cause UTI. Other causes can include bacteria traveling through the bloodstream from some other place in the body, or one may have an infection following surgery of the bladder or kidneys.

What Are Kidney Infection Risk Factors?

There are quite a few risk factors for kidney infection, and being aware of them can help when it comes to prevention. One of the largest risk factors is being female. This is in part because the urethra is shorter in women than it is in men, and it is also closer to the anus, which allows the bacteria the ability to enter the urethra much more easily. Pregnancy is another risk factor for contracting UTI. This is because the urinary tract shifts during pregnancy, changing its shape and putting a patient at more risk. 

A weakened immune system can also put you at risk for UTI. This includes patients who may have HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and those taking medications that render them immunocompromised. Other risk factors include:

  • Damage to the spinal cord
  • Problems with urinary retention (emptying the bladder). This is common in patients with multiple sclerosis or spina bifida. 
  • Use of a catheter 
  • Use of a cystoscope (this is a medical tool used to examine the bladder)
  • Use of spermicides
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sexual intercourse

Some patients cannot avoid the risk factors associated with UTI, and there are a few methods patients can use to prevent the recurrence of frequent kidney infection. It’s always a good idea to urinate directly after sexual intercourse and shower if possible. Drink plenty of fluids to help keep the urinary tract and bladder in balance and working well. 

It is a common myth that cranberry juice can cure kidney infection. The only way a kidney infection can be treated is with proper medication. However, drinking cranberry juice regularly when you are not infected can help prevent infection. 

Always remember to wipe from front to back and keep the vaginal area or genital area as clean and dry as possible. Also, try not to wear tight clothing for very long (such as exercise pants or swimsuits). This can help promote bacterial growth. It’s also a good rule of thumb to avoid douches, as they can cause bacterial growth as well. 

Kidney Infection Treatment

If you believe you have UTI or a bladder infection, see your doctor right away. The most common way to test for a bladder infection or kidney infection is a urinalysis, which can be performed and analyzed directly in the office. Your doctor may want to perform other tests, however, to judge the severity of the infection. These include a rectal examination (for men), MRI, or CT scan. Those with kidney stones or other kidney disease present will need more rigorous treatment and will be referred to a urologist. 

Antibiotics are the most common first-line treatment, and they work well to clear up kidney infections. However, sometimes types of antibiotics work differently, and your doctor may need to switch antibiotics if your body is unresponsive to treatment. If antibiotics do not work to clear up a UTI, you may have to spend some time in the hospital with intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics until the infection has cleared. Very rarely is surgery used for a kidney infection that is unresponsive to treatment, except in the case of kidney stones or other diseases.  

If you need more information about kidney stones or believe you may have an infection, book an appointment at Mississippi Urology Clinic, PLLC today. We have six separate locations to always meet your urology needs.