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Kidney Infection : Cause, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Kidney infection, or medically called pyelonephritis, is one type of urinary tract disease that often occurs.

Normally, the urinary tract actually has a way to survive the infection, namely by urinating regularly. The process of removing this urine will rinse the kidneys and bladder so that no germs infect. But if the number of germs is too much or the process of removing urine is disturbed, this can cause kidney infection.

Women are more at risk for kidney infections because the female urethra is shorter than the male urethra. This condition makes bacteria easier to enter the bladder. In addition, children are also susceptible to kidney infections, especially if there are abnormalities in the urinary tract from birth or suffer from vesicoureteral reflux where urine flows back from the bladder to the kidneys.

Infection that occurs in the kidneys requires immediate medical treatment. If it is treated late, the infection can get worse and cause permanent kidney damage. In addition, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and be fatal. Treatment of kidney infections can take up to two weeks to recover from symptoms.

Cause of Kidney Infection

Kidney infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Escherichia coli bacteria or E. coli are the most common causes. Normally, these bacteria live along the intestine and are released through feces. If the bacteria enters through the urinary hole, rises to the bladder and kidneys, infection can occur in the bladder or kidney infection.

The following causes a person more susceptible to kidney infection:

  • Women (because they have a shorter urinary tract so they are more easily infected)
  • Having a bladder infection
  • Pregnant women
  • Has a narrowing of the urethra (urethral structure) or an enlarged prostate
  • Experiencing kidney stones
  • Has diabetes
  • Having problems in removing urine (urine cannot come out completely / urine retention)

Diagnosis of Kidney Infection

If there are symptoms leading to kidney infection, urine examination (urinalysis) is required in the laboratory. From the results of urine examination, the doctor will see if there are any bacteria, blood, nitrites, and leukocyte esterase found which is a sign that there is an infection in the kidney. Furthermore, to find out the type of germs that cause kidney infection and what appropriate treatment is given, a urine culture examination is needed.

If kidney infection is suspected to occur due to another disease in the urinary tract, then sometimes an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI is needed to confirm it.

Further examination can be done especially if:

  • Symptoms get worse.
  • Symptoms do not improve even after being treated with antibiotics.
  • Patients are at risk of complications due to kidney infection.
  • Other symptoms that are not associated with kidney infection appear.
  • Kidney infections relapse, especially in children.

Symptoms of Kidney Infection

Kidney infection will cause symptoms to appear quite quickly, that is, until only a few hours after the bacteria reach the kidney. The following are common symptoms that usually occur in patients with kidney infections.

  • The presence of blood or pus in the urine.
  • Unusual urine odor.
  • Pain and discomfort around the side abdomen or back.
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite.

Symptoms of kidney infection above are sometimes accompanied by symptoms of urethritis (urethral infection) or cystic (bladder infection), such as pain or burning sensation when urinating, frequency of urination more often, darker urine color, urine odor unpleasant, or feel unable to urinate completely.

In children, kidney infections are generally accompanied by signs such as:

  • Fussy.
  • Difficulty eating and / or vomiting.
  • The body is weak or lacks energy.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Growth is not normal.
  • Jaundice.
  • The presence of blood in the urine or hematuria.
  • Unusual urine odor.
  • Bedwetting.

Risk factors for kidney infection

The following are some other factors that can increase your risk for kidney infection:

  • Female sex. In women, the distance of the anus with the urethral duct is very close, making it easier for bacteria to spread to the urethra. In addition, the urethral duct in a woman's body is also shorter than that of a man.
  • Inborn condition. Someone who is born with abnormalities in the urinary tract has a high risk for kidney infection.
  • Urinary tract obstruction, such as kidney stones and swelling of the prostate gland.
  • Children who experience constipation have a risk of developing kidney infections.
  • A weak immune system, for example due to type 2 diabetes or HIV / AIDS, or it can also occur as a side effect of chemotherapy.
  • Prostatitis, which is an infection that occurs in the prostate gland and can spread to the kidney organs.
  • Sexually active women. Sex can make the urethra irritate and make it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder.
  • People who often have anal sex. The bacteria enter the urinary tract more easily and eventually enter the bladder.
  • Pregnant women. Urine flow can be slower due to physical changes during pregnancy, so that bacteria easily spread to the kidney organs.
  • Long-term catheter use. A catheter is a small hose that is installed to remove urine from the bladder.
  • Nerve damage around the bladder. Damage to the nerves or spinal cord can make a person not aware that the infection has spread to the kidneys.

Treatment of Kidney Infection

The types of drugs that are usually prescribed by doctors to treat symptoms of kidney infection are:

  • Oral antibiotics. Commonly recommended antibiotics are ciprofloxacin or amoxicillin. While specifically for pregnant women, antibiotics that are generally given are cephalexin with a usage period of 14 days. Symptoms of kidney infection usually begin to improve after several days of treatment. But to ensure the infection is completely clean, this treatment needs to be continued until the drug is used up.
  • Pain Relief Medication. To relieve pain and fever arising from kidney infection, doctors will usually recommend paracetamol. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen, are not recommended for use in this condition because they can worsen kidney disorders.

To help speed recovery, do the following methods at home:

  • Eat plenty of fluids to get rid of bacteria from the kidneys, and to avoid dehydration.
  • Use a warm pillow on your stomach, back or side body.
  • In women, do not urinate in a squatting position, but in a position sitting on the toilet, so that emptying the bladder is better.
  • Enough rest.

Hospital treatment

Hospitalization can be recommended if:

  • Kidney infection occurs in children.
  • Kidney infections that occur are very severe and require the administration of antibiotics through infusion.
  • Kidney infections reappear (relapse).
  • Kidney infection occurs in men, because this condition rarely occurs in men. Doctors will refer male patients to the hospital to find out the cause of this condition.

In addition, hospital care may be needed if:

  • The patient's condition does not improve within one day after taking antibiotics.
  • The patient cannot swallow fluids or drugs.
  • Patients experience severe dehydration.
  • The patient is pregnant and has a fever.
  • The patient's immune system is weakened.
  • Age of patients over 65 years.
  • There is a foreign body in the urinary tract, such as a catheter or kidney stone.
  • Patients suffer from diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or polycystic kidney disease.

During hospitalization, patients will be given intravenous fluids to avoid dehydration. Whereas to monitor the medical condition and response of patients to antibiotics, it is necessary to check blood and urine regularly.

Most of the conditions of patients with kidney infections who are hospitalized will improve within 3 to 7 days. However, generally patients will still be given antibiotic tablets or capsules as follow-up treatment at home.

Read Also : Early symptoms of kidney disease You need to know

Complications due to kidney infection

Here are some of the possible complications that arise from kidney infection:

  • Kidney abscess, which occurs when pus fluid appears in kidney tissue. This condition can have serious consequences because bacteria in abscesses or pus pushing can spread to other body parts, such as blood flow or lungs. Kidney abscesses tend to occur in people who have diabetes. Symptoms that appear are similar to kidney infections, such as fever, chills, abdominal pain, pain during urination, and loss of appetite. Handling abscesses that are still relatively mild can be done by administering antibiotics through an IV. While the treatment of severe abscesses is usually done through surgery.
  • This is a condition where the infection has spread to the bloodstream. Complications of kidney infections can be fatal because bacteria in the bloodstream can spread to vital organs. Symptoms that appear can be low blood pressure, confusion, fever, pale skin, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and shivering. Sepsis requires immediate medical treatment at the hospital by administering antibiotics to stop infection.
  • Kidney failure. In this condition, the kidneys cannot function normally. Handling kidney failure can be done by dialysis or kidney transplantation.
  • Emphysematous pyelonephritis. This is a severe kidney infection and causes kidney tissue to be damaged quickly. The bacteria that cause infection begin to release toxic gases and accumulate in the kidneys. Almost all of these cases occur in diabetics, although until now the cause is still uncertain. The treatment is through surgical removal of part or all of the infected kidney.
  • Complications in pregnancy. Pregnant women who have kidney infections can cause quite dangerous complications. If left untreated, infection increases the risk of preterm birth and gives birth to a baby with less weight.

Prevention of Kidney Infection

Kidney infection can actually be prevented, the way:

  • Take 1.5–2 liters of water a day to rinse the urethra from germs that can cause infection.
  • After urinating or defecating, clean the pubic area from front to back (from the urethra to the anus), not otherwise.
  • Do not resist the urge to urinate.
  • Get used to urinating after having sex.



1. Urology Care Foundation (2017). Kidney (Renal) Infection – Pyelonephritis.

2. Harding, M. Patient (2016). Kidney Infection Pyelonephritis. 

3. Pyelonephritis in Adults. American Family Physician.

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Is a health and wellness enthusiast. In him free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.