A guide to kidney infections

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 11/04/2023
Edited by: Alex Rolandi

Part of the urinary tract, the kidneys filter waste and excess water out of the blood. If any part of the urinary tract gets a bacteria in it, a urinary tract infection develops. Bladder infections are most common, but sometimes bacteria can travel to the kidneys giving rise to a kidney infection.

Kidney infections, although more serious than cystitis (bladder infection), if treated correctly won’t cause any harm save the patient feeling unwell. If left untreated, however, the patient risks permanent damage to the kidney.


7 kidney infection symptoms to watch out for

The onset of kidney infection symptoms generally happens rapidly, either over the space of a few hours or days. Common kidney infection signs to watch out for are:


  • Pain in the lower back, genitals or side
  • High temperature
  • Chills
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Feeling sick
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

Sometimes, if the patient has another infection such as cystitis, they may experience other symptoms including blood in urine, bad-smelling urine, lower abdomen pain, and pain during urination.


What causes kidney infections?

Kidney infections are usually caused by a bacteria called E. coli, which is normally found in the bowel. The bacteria travels through the urethra infecting the bladder and then the kidneys. There are various ways this can happen. Sometimes, it is believed, the bacteria enters the urinary tract by spreading from the anus to urethra when soiled toilet paper touches the genitals. This may also occur during sexual intercourse. Less frequently, kidney infections develop when a fungi or bacteria affect the skin, and the infection passes into the bloodstream before spreading to the kidneys.


What are the risk factors?

Children and women have a higher chance of getting a kidney infection. Around 1 in 830 people develops a type of kidney infection annually in the UK. As younger women are more sexually active, they are generally more at risk as frequent sex increases the chances of getting a kidney infection. In fact, kidney infections are 6 times more common in women than in men.


Preventing kidney infections

By keeping the bladder and urethra free of bacteria, the chances of developing a kidney infection are greatly reduced. This can be done by drinking plenty of water, maintaining good genital hygiene and treating any occurrences of constipation.


How are kidney infections treated?

Kidney infection treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics. Sometimes painkillers may be necessary. Get in touch with a specialist if you are exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above. If kidney infections are not treated, permanent scarring may occur or even blood poisoning (sepsis).


By Topdoctors

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