Kidney Infection: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Kidneys help to clean the waste and extra water from your blood. Kidneys are part of the urinary tract, which makes and removes urine from your body.

The urinary tract consists of four major parts:

  • Kidneys: to clean waste from your blood and make urine
  • Ureters: thin tubes that carry pee to your bladder
  • Bladder: stores pee
  • Urethra: transports pee from the bladder to outside your body

If bacteria gets in any of these parts, a person can get a urinary tract infection (UTI). In most cases, it’s the bladder that gets infected and it can be painful, but not usually too serious. However, if those bacteria travel up the ureters, a person can have a severe health condition called kidney infection or “pyelonephritis.” Untreated kidney infection can lead to life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of Kidney infection

You may have:

  • Pain in your lower back, side or groin
  • Blood or pus in your urine
  • Fever and chills
  • No desire to eat
  • Upset stomach
  • Weakness

A person with kidney infection may also have some of the signs and symptoms of a bladder infection, such as:

It is advisable to immediately contact your doctor if you have these symptoms. If left untreated, it could lead to kidney damage or blood poisoning, which is deadly.

What Causes a Kidney Infection?

Kidney infection is usually caused by the bacteria E. coli, and it starts with a bladder infection that spreads to the kidney. Other bacteria can also cause kidney infections.

READ ALSO: Kidney Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

You can also have an infection that gets in through your skin, makes its way into your blood, then travels to your kidney. You can also get an infection after kidney surgery, but it’s rare.

Who Gets Kidney infection?

Kidney infection can affect anyone, but since women get more bladder infections than men, they also get more kidney infections. This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, and it’s closer to the vagina and anus, where bacteria thrive. This makes it easier for bacteria to get into a woman’s urethra, and gain easy access to the bladder. From there, they can spread to the kidneys.

READ ALSO: Bladder Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

For pregnant women, the growing baby can mount pressure on the ureter of the woman, slowing down the flow of urine and increasing her chances of getting bladder infections.

Risk Factors of Kidney infection

Any problem in your urinary tract that prevents urine from flowing forward can raise your odds of a kidney infection, such as:

  • Blockage in the urinary tract, like a kidney stone or enlarged prostate
  • Structural problem in the urinary tract, like a pinched urethra
  • Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a condition where pee flows backward from the bladder toward the kidneys
  • Conditions that keep the bladder from emptying completely

You are also more likely to get kidney disease if you have:

  • Weak immune system like conditions that causes type 2 diabetes
  • Nerve damage in your bladder
  • A prostate infection, known as prostatitis
  • A urinary catheter, a tube that goes unto your urethra and drains pee

Diagnosing Kidney infection

Your doctor may ask about your signs and symptoms. Tests that may be conducted include:

  • Urine analysis: To check for blood, pus, and bacteria urine your urine sample
  • Urine culture to see what kind of bacteria you have

Your doctor may also use these tests:

  • Ultrasound or CT: to check for a blockage in your urinary tract. These are usually done if treatment doesn’t help within the first 3 days.
  • Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG): a type of X-ray to check for problems in your urethra and bladder. These are often used in children who have VUR.
  • Digital rectal exam (for men): This test involves your doctor inserting a lubed finger into your anus to check for a swollen prostate.
  • Dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) scintigraphy: This is a type of imaging that uses a radioactive material to check for kidney infection and damage


Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which you may need for a week or two. Your symptoms should improve within a few days. Ensure you finish the medicine as your doctor recommends. Stay in the hospital and get antibiotics through an IV.

If you have recurrent kidney infections, you may have a structural problem in your urinary tract. So, your doctor may refer you to a urologist, who treats urinary tract problems. These types of issues often need surgery.

READ ALSO: The Signs of Kidney Problems in Women


You can’t completely prevent all bladder infections. But you may avoid getting it if you:

  • Use the bathroom once you feel the urge.
  • Urinate after having sex.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.
  • Avoid using deodorant sprays or douches on your genitals
  • Don’t use condoms or diaphragms with spermicide. It can trigger bacteria growth. But do use lubricated condoms.
  • Drink lots of water.

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