The kidneys are located on both sides of the body near the lower back, just under the diaphragm. Urine is drained from the kidneys to the bladder through tubes called ureters. From the bladder the urine leaves the body through the urethra. The kidneys have an important function in the body which is filtering the waste products from the blood. It does this as the blood circulates through capillaries within the kidneys, regulating blood pressure, maintaining adequate levels of electrolytes, and contributing to the production of red blood cells.
The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A urinary tract infection or UTI is any part of the urinary system that becomes infected. A lower urinary tract infection involves the bladder, urethra, and prostate gland (in men). An upper urinary tract infection involves the kidneys.
Medically known as pyelonephritis, kidney infections usually begin in the bladder. Germs from the bladder travel up the ureters to the kidneys, and multiply. When an infection in the kidneys develops slowly, growing steadily worse, and hanging on for a long period of time, it is considered a chronic kidney infection. This variety of pyelonephritis can lead to kidney failure. An acute kidney infection, or a short term infection, starts suddenly with severe symptoms, and ends quickly.
Causes of pyelonephritis could be conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes, kidney stones, cancer, or abnormalities in the urinary tract. These conditions can lower your ability to fight off the bacteria that enters your kidneys from your bladder. Sexual intercourse can cause women to contract kidney infections when bacteria gets into the urinary tract. Foley catheters, if left in place for extended periods, can also lead to an infection. E. Coli (Escherichia coli) is responsible for about 80% of all kidney infections.
Symptoms of a kidney infection includes fever, chills, lower back pain, upset stomach, vomiting, blood in the urine, or a burning sensation during urination. Feeling a constant need to urinate or the inability to urinate can occur too. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to seek medical attention with your physician or an urgent care facility as soon as possible.
Without proper care, the infection could spread to other parts of your body causing worse symptoms or problems. You may get repeated infections that can lead to kidney failure. The doctor will send a urine sample to a lab for tests. This is called a urinalysis and they will be looking for the presence of white blood cells, which is a sign of infection. A pelvic exam may be necessary in young, female patients to check for pelvic infection. If you are severely sick, you may need hospitalization, but most cases will clear up with a simple treatment of antibiotics.
Drinking plenty of water and taking antibiotics as prescribed is the most effective was of treating kidney infections. Make sure you get plenty of rest as well. If treated promptly and effectively, the outcome of the infection is usually good.
There are several preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of getting a kidney infection. Proper hygiene is the main approach to prevention. The majority of infections happen due to bacteria entering the urinary tract from the urethra or anus. For women, wiping the genital area from front to back after using the restroom can significantly reduce the chance of bacteria entering the urinary tract.
Emptying the bladder after sexual activity is advised because it will help drain bacteria that may have entered the bladder. Drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberries are also methods proven to prevent recurring kidney infections. If kidney stones are a problem in the patient, the removal of these stones could help prevent future infections by eliminating the potential focus of infection.