Types Of UTIs: Kidney Infections
When people think of urinary tract infections, what normally comes to mind is actually “cystitis” – the infection of the bladder. This is the type of UTI where you get that painful, frequent, burning urge to urinate for a few days.
But what most people do not realize is a urinary tract infection can happen in three areas of the urinary tract:
- The urethra
- The bladder
- The kidneys
Once the UTI has hit the kidneys, you are dealing with a much more serious issue than just dealing with pain for a few days. In fact, kidney infections (or “pyelonephritis” in scientific terms) can actually be life threatening.
Consider this your all-around guide to kidney infections: what they are, why you get them, and how to get rid of them. I want you to fully understand this type of UTI, so you know what to do if one ever arrives.
What Do The Kidneys Do?
Your kidneys are the two bean-shaped organs that start off your urinary tract. They sit right under your rib cage, each on one side of your spine.
Kidneys are a major filtering system in the body. Around 120 to 150 quarts of blood get filtered through your kidneys every single day. What are the results of all that filtering?
But the kidneys also do way more. They are incredibly complicated, multi-faceted organs. One of the easiest ways to really learn about all the fine details of the kidneys and all they do, is through the TED Ed video, “How do your kidneys work?”
In only 4 minutes, you can become a kidney expert:
What Causes Kidney Infections?
The kidneys start the urinary tract elimination process, but they often finish the urinary tract infection process. This means what started out as a bladder infection has potential to trail on up to your kidneys.
It is also possible (but much less likely) that bacteria can travel to your kidneys through your bloodstream.
While anybody can get a kidney infection, it is most common among:
- Those who already have a bladder infection: Make sure to drink plenty of water as you heal
- Women: The female urethra is smaller, so bacteria has an easier time entering the urinary tract
- Pregnant women: Pregnancy can lead to a higher rate of UTIs in general
- Those with poor immune systems: Diabetics and HIV patients have a heightened risk of kidney infection
- Catheter use: Those who use a catheter long-term can be more susceptible
- Those with obstruction: If you have a kidney stone, enlarged prostate, or any other urinary obstruction, your chance of developing a kidney infection increases
Those with recurrent kidney infections most likely have some sort of “structural abnormality.”
What Are The Main Symptoms Of Kidney Infections?
The signs and symptoms of a kidney infection are often considerably worse than a bladder infection. You should be able to easily recognize if your infection has moved up to your kidneys when you experience:
- High fever (often over 101 F)
- Upper back pain
- Pain in your side (flank)
- Extreme fatigue
Keep in mind that it is possible some patients may not exhibit many symptoms other than side pain (near your kidneys). So if you feel some side pain that is not going away, I want to encourage you to check it out with your doctor.
Also know that both children the elderly can display the symptoms of a kidney infection differently than teenagers and other adults do. Babies may only have a fever; older people may only have confusion or hallucinations. That is why these “out-of-the ordinary” symptoms are always good to run by a doctor.
What Do You Do When You Think You Have A Kidney Infection?
If you are exhibiting any of the signs/symptoms of a kidney infection, you should make a visit to your doctor ASAP. This is also important if you have been dealing with a UTI (bladder infection) that will not go away.
Here is why the doctor plays such an important role in kidney infections…it is possible that complications of this infection can:
- Threaten your life
- Cause permanent damage to the kidneys
- Cause blood poisoning
- Bring complications to a pregnancy
- Lead to high blood pressure
This severity happens because of all those intricate and incredible feats your kidney accomplishes each and everyday (which brings us back to our mini-lesson on kidney function above). When your kidneys are infected and not working properly, a long list of negative possibilities pops up.
Some kidney infections may only need a round of antibiotics, and others may require hospitalization with IV antibiotics. Either way – it’s not something to mess around with.
How Are Kidney Infections Diagnosed?
A doctor may know right away if you have a kidney infection simply by looking at you and assessing your symptoms.
In some cases, however, you will have to give a urinalysis to check for bacteria and/or blood. It is also possible that your doctor may use some sort of digital imaging like an ultrasound or CT to confirm the diagnosis.
Once the doctor knows the level of your kidney infection, the proper treatment can be established.
What Can You Do About Them?
Many of the same things you can do to prevent a common UTI (or cystitis) will help in the prevention of a kidney infection as well. This includes:
- Drinking plenty of water: Drinking plenty of H20 is your #1 way to flush out any bacteria that may have entered your urinary tract.
- Urinate when you need to: The “urge” you feel is your body’s way of letting you know something needs to be removed; listen to it and actually go.
- Urinate post-sex: One of the most common ways to develop a UTI is through sex. When you go to the bathroom right after you are done, you can help prevent UTI that could turn into a kidney infection. (While you’re at it, ditch the spermicide for other methods of contraception.)
Great supplements to take in order to both prevent and aid a UTI (which can stop it from becoming a kidney infection) are:
Just remember this important distinction: unlike a bladder infection that you could try to clear up at home without a round of antibiotics, a doctor should always treat a kidney infection.
This does not mean natural supplements will help in your prevention/recovery process (they certainly do!), but antibiotics play an important role in treating this type of infection.