Is it serious?

You’ve had some burning when urinating and been prescribed antibiotics by your doctor for a urinary tract infection. A few days go by, and you’re still not feeling better. In fact, your back is starting to hurt worse. You go back to your doctor and find out that you have a kidney infection. What is the difference between a urinary tract infection and a kidney infection? Are the treatments the same?


A kidney infection (Pyelonephritis) is a type of urinary tract infection because it involves your kidneys, which are part of your urinary system. Typically, you have an infection that starts in your urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside your body) or bladder and travels up the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder), spreading the infection to your kidneys. Kidney infections require prompt treatment because they can cause permanent damage to your kidneys, or the bacteria can quickly enter your bloodstream, causing a serious illness called sepsis. Symptoms of a kidney infection can include fever, chills, back/side pain, groin pain, abdominal pain, frequent urination, continual urge to urinate, burning sensation/pain when urinating, nausea, vomiting, pus or blood in your urine, foul-smelling urine and urine that’s cloudy.

Certain things can increase your risk of getting a kidney infection. One of these is being female because their urethra is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Anything that slows the flow of your urine or decreases your ability to empty your bladder fully, such as kidney stones, abnormal urinary tract structure, or enlarged prostate, also places you at a heightened risk. A weakened immune system due to medical conditions, like diabetes or HIV, or taking certain medications raises your risk level because your body is more susceptible to developing any type of infection. If you damage the nerves attached to your bladder, your ability to sense abnormalities, like pain or the urgent need to urinate, is diminished. Using a urinary catheter can introduce bacteria into your urinary system. Certain conditions, such as vesicoureteral reflux, cause your urine to flow in the wrong direction, raising the risk of bacteria reaching your kidneys.


The treatment of kidney infections depends on your personal health and which type of bacteria is causing the condition, which is determined by taking a urine sample. By knowing these two factors, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate antibiotic most effective in treating the type of infection you have. Usually, you’ll take oral antibiotics, and your symptoms will clear up within a few days. It’s essential to finish all the antibiotics prescribed to ensure that the bacteria are completely eliminated, even if you are feeling better beforehand.

To help provide some relief from the symptoms, you can apply a heating pad to your abdomen, back or side. You can use over-the-counter medicine, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help with any pain or fevers. It’s vital to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoid coffee and alcohol until your infection has cleared since they can increase your need to urinate. Sometimes, your kidney infection is severe enough that you need to be admitted to the hospital to get antibiotics and fluids via an intravenous (IV) catheter. If you have repeat kidney infections, it’s a good idea to be evaluated by a nephrologist (kidney specialist) or urologist (urinary surgeon) to find the cause and determine the appropriate treatment.


The best way to prevent a kidney infection is to reduce your chances of a urinary tract infection. An easy way is to drink enough water to have enough urine to help flush most of the bacteria from your urinary system every time you urinate. Do not delay going to the bathroom when you feel the urge to go. The longer urine remains in your bladder, especially if it’s signaling that it’s full, the greater the chance bacteria can travel to your kidneys. Urinating as soon as possible after intercourse can remove bacteria from your urethra. Specifically for women, it’s key to be careful while wiping to prevent the spread of bacteria. The best way is by wiping front to back. Most doctors recommend that women avoid using feminine products, like deodorant sprays or douching, because this can be irritative.

When it comes to kidney infections, prevention is the key. If you happen to have one, prompt medical treatment is vital. Using the information you just learned will help you prevent or deal with them. If you have any questions or concerns about kidney infections, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Urology Care Foundation’s kidney infection page at