Why You Should Take a Kidney Infection Seriously
Think of bacteria or viruses that enter your urinary tract as swimming against the current. Most of the time, they get swept out of your body by urine flowing from the bladder and urethra. Occasionally, however, some germs succeed in reaching the bladder, causing a bladder infection. From the bladder, germs may make it to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection known as pyelonephritis.
What is a Kidney Infection?
A kidney infection is a type of urinary tract infection that can be painful, but its effects can extend beyond discomfort. An untreated urinary tract infection can threaten your health. Ignoring a kidney infection, for example, can lead to high blood pressure, kidney failure, or chronic kidney disease. If you spot the warning signs of an infection, see your primary care provider so you can start treatment as quickly as possible.
What Factors Increase Your Risk for a Kidney Infection?
Bacteria cause most kidney infections. Several factors can increase the chance of a urinary tract infection that affects the kidneys.
Women, for example, have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. You are more likely to have a kidney infection if you have had bladder infections. In addition, pregnant women may experience changes to the urinary tract that allow urinary tract infections to develop.
Other risk factors for infection include:
- kidney stone, enlarged prostate or another problem that blocks or slows the flow of urine
- spinal cord injury
- struggling to empty your bladder
- vesicoureteral reflux, which is when urine flows backward into the kidneys
- weakened immune system due to diabetes or another medical condition
Warning Signs to Watch For
A kidney infection can be extremely uncomfortable. Some people experience discomfort while urinating or pain in their back, side or groin. Other symptoms of a kidney infection include:
- cloudy urine
- dizziness or confusion (mainly in older adults)
- frequent urination
- urine that smells bad
How Do Medical Providers Diagnose and Treat Kidney Infections?
The only way to know whether your symptoms are due to a kidney infection is to see a medical provider. You should not wait to see whether the symptoms clear up on their own because, if you have an infection, allowing it to linger can lead to more serious health problems.
Diagnosing a kidney infection starts with your primary care provider conducting a physical exam and taking your medical history. You may need to provide a urine sample, which can show signs of a kidney infection, or have an imaging test to look for a blockage in the urinary tract.
Your primary care provider will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Your symptoms may disappear within days, but do not take that as a sign that it is OK to stop taking the medication. You should finish the entire course of antibiotics. The infection may take two or more weeks to clear up.
Turn Bacteria Away to Help Stop Kidney Infections
Not all kidney infections are avoidable, but you can take steps to reduce your risk. Women, for example, should wipe from front to back after using the bathroom to stop the spread of bacteria that could enter the urethra. Other steps you can take include:
- Stay hydrated.
- Urinate after sex.
- Urinate regularly, and don’t try to hold urine in your bladder.
With some extra care, you can help your kidneys keep working for you and reduce the chance of a kidney infection disrupting your life.