A kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, is a type of urinary tract infection. This infection usually begins in your bladder and spreads to the kidneys as bacteria or viruses travel up the ureters to your kidneys. This infection can be painful and is responsible for around 100,000 hospital visits each year. However, once diagnosed, kidney infections respond well to treatment with antibiotics. If you suspect you may have a kidney infection, watch for these 12 signs and symptoms.
One of the earliest signs of a kidney infection is a frequent desire to pee. If you find yourself running to the restroom more often than usual, it may be due to the irritation caused by infection. Along with frequent urination can come the desire to urinate, even when the bladder is empty. Women are more likely than men to suffer from kidney infections. Since a woman’s urethra is relatively short, it is easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder.
Difficulty Emptying the Bladder
Another sign of kidney infection is a strong need to pee, accompanied by an inability to empty your bladder completely. Urinary blockage can be caused by urinary tract stones, constipation, an enlarged prostate in men, or a weakened bladder. When the bladder is not able to expel all of the urine, that urine can collect bacteria. This leads to an infection. Since men are generally less prone to urinary tract infections, a man who has frequent infections should have his prostate checked as well as his kidneys.
Pain When Urinating
As if it weren’t bad enough that you have to pee frequently, you may also find urinating to be painful. Since the structures of the urinary tract are connected, pain and inflammation can occur all the way from your urethra up to your kidneys. This means urine can cause burning and pain as it travels through your urethra. While cranberry juice has long been purported to cure urinary tract infections, the evidence is not clear. What is known is that drinking plenty of water is good for urinary tract health.
Smelly or Cloudy Urine
As bacteria ferment in your urinary tract, you may notice your urine taking on a foul smell. Urine can become cloudy as your white blood cells form to fight off the infection. A combination of white blood cells and bacteria can contribute to the cloudy appearance of pee. Other causes of cloudy urine are kidney stones, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginitis, and diabetes.
Fever can be an indication of a kidney infection. In fact, in very young children fever may be the only symptom of this infection. To help prevent kidney infections from occurring, be sure to drink plenty of water. Listen to your body’s cues and head to the restroom when you feel the need to urinate. Urinating and washing the genitals after sexual intercourse can help to prevent urinary tract infections. Wipe from front to back following a bowel movement to prevent bacteria from reaching your urethra.
Chills often accompany a fever. They are caused by your muscles rapidly contracting and relaxing and can include teeth chattering as well as shivering. Another way to prevent urinary tract infection is to be sure to eat plenty of fiber. Constipation can contribute to the development of a urinary tract infection.
Back, Side or Groin Pain
The pain of a swollen, irritated kidney can result in lower back pain. Pain may also radiate to the side or groin area. If you are diagnosed with a kidney infection, your doctor may recommend pain medication in addition to antibiotics. Additionally, a warm heating pad may help with pain as you recover.
Abdominal pain or pain in the lower abdomen can accompany a urinary tract infection. Your doctor may order a urine analysis to check for blood, pus, and bacteria. A urine culture will let your physician know which bacteria are involved in the infection. In some cases, your doctor may order an ultrasound to check for a urinary tract blockage. A physician may perform a digital rectal exam on men to check for an enlarged prostate gland. If necessary, additional imaging may be required to evaluate kidney damage.
Nausea and Vomiting
Bacteria within the kidney can release gas, resulting in nausea and vomiting. Nerves that are shared between the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract can also be triggered to cause nausea and vomiting. Foods that may irritate your bladder include coffee, tea, tomato juice, and chocolate.
Pus or Blood in Your Urine
If you see pus in your urine, seek medical attention immediately, as this indicates a severe infection or an abscess in your bladder. This whitish-yellow or brownish-yellow fluid is made up of dead white blood cells that have formed as part of your body’s immune response to the infection. Blood may also appear in your urine as your body tries to fight off the infection. Kidney stones, bladder cancer, or kidney cancer can also be causes of blood in the urine.
Weakness or Dizziness
A rampant urinary tract infection affects your entire body. Left untreated, the infection can spread to your bloodstream, leaving you weak and dizzy. While some kidney infections can be treated with oral antibiotics at home, others may require hospitalization. You may end up in the hospital if you are severely dehydrated, have a rapid heart rate, lose consciousness, or are unable to keep down any fluids. Pregnant women, diabetics, the elderly, and immunocompromised patients may also require hospitalization for a kidney infection.
Loss of Appetite
A loss of appetite may be a byproduct of your body’s response to bacteria. Cytokines released during your body’s inflammatory response to infection may suppress your desire to eat. Antibiotics usually clear up infection within two weeks. If you suspect a kidney infection, see your doctor to prevent permanent kidney damage, blood poisoning, or kidney abscesses.