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What you should know about a kidney infection

Seek prompt medical attention; drink plenty of fluids as a preventive


Our kidneys have the important task of cleaning the waste and extra water from our blood. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys (that make urine), ureters (thin tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder), bladder (that stores urine) and the urethra (from where urine is excreted).

Kidney infection (called pyelonephritis) is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that generally begins in the urethra or bladder and travels to one or both the kidneys. Bacteria called E. coli cause the infection in 80% of the cases. It requires prompt medical attention. Women, pregnant women, children under two years of age and senior citizens are more vulnerable to kidney infection.

The warning signs of a kidney infection are:

Pus or blood in the urine: As the body fights the infection, red blood cells can end up in the urine. In severe cases, pus might be present because of a build-up of white blood cells and bacteria.

Fever and chills: Bladder infections don’t normally cause a fever, so a fever may indicate that the infection has travelled to the kidneys. A patient may also start shivering.

Pain in the back, side, abdomen or groin: An infected kidney will swell and be tender. This could result in pain, most commonly in the lower back.

Burning sensation or pain while urinating: Because a kidney infection is a type of UTI, inflammation can go all the way down to the urethra causing these symptoms.

Frequent urge to urinate: That initial bladder infection irritates the organ’s tissues and will send the patient to the bathroom more frequently – it’s one of the earliest kidney infection symptoms.

Foul smelling or cloudy urine: During a kidney infection, the urine might look cloudy as the body is sending white blood cells to fight the infection. Also, the urine may smell foul due to fermentation of the bacteria.

Dizziness: Inflammation from the bacteria causes the blood vessels to dilate and the blood pressure to drop which may lead to dizziness.

Other symptoms of a kidney infection are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and a stomach upset.

Risk factors


Women are more vulnerable as their urethras are shorter. Also, the nearness of the urethra to the vagina and anus creates more opportunities for bacteria to enter the bladder. A weakened immune system, due to diabetes or any other medical condition, and use of catheters can make one more prone to having a kidney infection.

Having a urinary tract blockage like a kidney stone or enlarged prostate can also prevent the bladder from emptying completely. The leftover urine could collect bacteria causing an infection.

How it is diagnosed

A doctor will look for signs of dehydration and check for tenderness in the mid and lower back. A urine analysis to check for blood, pus and bacteria, and also a urine culture to see the kind of bacteria in the urine are necessary.  


Usually, the first step is antibiotics, for a week or two. The symptoms should improve within a few days, but the antibiotic course should be completed. Painkillers may also be prescribed. Consuming plenty of fluids will help prevent fever and dehydration. For severe infections, hospitalisation may be advised. 


  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water as fluids help remove bacteria from your body when you urinate.
  • Avoid delaying urination when you feel the urge to urinate.
  • Urinate after sex as this helps clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of infection.
  • Wiping after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra.
  • Avoid using feminine products in the genital area as they can irritate the area.
  • Don’t use condoms or diaphragms with spermicide as they can trigger bacterial growth. 


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