Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) is a result of a urinary tract infection (UTI) that moves to the upper urinary system, which includes the kidneys. The kidneys’ function is to filter blood and produce urine. Urine is carried to the bladder through the ureters where it is then expelled from the body.
Pyelonephritis is often a complication of a urinary tract infection. A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urinary system. It can become quite a serious condition if the infection spreads to the blood. For the most part, kidney infection is always treated with antibiotics.
Causes of pyelonephritis
E.coli is a common bacterium that can cause a UTI and a kidney infection. When proper urine flow is restricted, bacteria can make their way up to the kidneys. People with a weakened immune system, diabetics, and those with kidney stones are at a higher risk for kidney infection as well.
Kidney infections, and UTIs in general, are more commonly seen in women because their urethra is much shorter than that of men’s, so bacteria have a shorter route to travel in order to reach the urinary tract system.
Pyelonephritis risk factors
Aside from having a weakened immune system, being diabetic, being female, and having kidney stones, other risk factors that can contribute to kidney infection development include having an obstruction of the urinary tract (which can be caused by an enlarged prostate and abdominal or pelvic masses), having damaged nerves around the bladder, using a catheter for a prolonged period of time, and having a condition such as vesicoureteral reflux that causes the flow of urine to go the wrong way.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery stools often as a result of bacteria. There are two main types of diarrhea: acute and chronic. Acute diarrhea lasts for a few days as a response to an infection, whereas chronic diarrhea lasts for several weeks and is often associated with an intestinal disorder or condition, like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.
Fever and uncontrollable shivering: Fever or chills is a common symptom of majority of infections associated with high bacterial count.
Nausea: Nausea, and maybe even vomiting, may occur as a result of a kidney infection. The infection itself may make you feel as if you are sick to your stomach. Nausea in a kidney infection may be a result of intense pain, dehydration, or the improper function of the kidneys.
Fatigue: You may feel fatigued or low energy as a result of your body fighting off an infection.
Back pain: Back pain, or flank pain, can result from a kidney infection and is experienced close to where the kidneys are located. If the pain does not subside even after taking pain medications, speak to your doctor right away.
Bloody urine: If the kidney infection is severe, you may notice blood in your urine as a result of red blood cells mixing with urine. This is common if filtering function of the kidneys gets interrupted.
Cloudy urine: Healthy urine is clear and light yellow in color. Unhealthy urine can be cloudy, hazy, or milky looking. This can occur for a number of different reasons, including sexually transmitted diseases, dehydration, infections, or diseases that affect other body systems along with the urinary tract. While cloudy urine in men does happen, women get it more often since their bodies lend itself to E. coli forming in the bladder.
Dysuria: Dysuria – also known as painful urination – is a condition that can be an early sign of a urinary tract infection. Dysuria leads to feeling pain, discomfort, or burning while urinating. It’s important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing dysuria, as there may be a number of different causes.
Frequent urination: If the kidney infection spreads to the urethra, you may also experience frequent urination. The urge persists even after you have emptied your bladder. This could be one of the early signs of a kidney infection.
Pain in the lower abdomen: Lower left abdominal pain may be related to a kidney infection, which not only causes abdominal pain, but pain while urinating as well.
Diagnosing and treating pyelonephritis
To properly diagnose kidney infection, your doctor will look at your medical history, conduct a physical examination, complete a urinalysis, observe urine cultures and blood cultures, complete a computed tomography (CT) scan to obtain detailed images of the kidneys and bladder, and complete a kidney ultrasound to detect any stones or other obstructions.
Pyelonephritis is often treated with antibiotics, and hospitalization is rarely required. If the patient is vomiting then hospitalization will be required so that antibiotics can be administered intravenously.