What are the signs of kidney infection and what causes it?
Kidney infection is medically known as pyelonephritis. This type of infection generally begins in the lower parts of the urinary tract, such as the urethra and the bladder, making its way up into the kidneys. It’s more serious than lower urinary tract infections because it may cause permanent damage to the kidneys and infect the blood stream, carrying the infection further. This type of infection needs immediate medical attention.
Causes of kidney infection
Pyelonephritis is initially caused by the entry of bacteria into the urinary tract. Women are usually more prone to this infection than men because women have a shorter urethra. The urethral opening is also located near the rectum, making it easier for bacteria from the colon to travel into the urinary tract.
Risk for bacterial entry increases during the following:
• Wrong way of wiping. Women should wipe from front to back.
• Sexual intercourse.
• Introduction of external objects into the urethra, such as foley catheters in paralyzed patients.
Obstruction of the urinary tract may also cause this disease. This occurs during BPH or Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) in older males. As the prostate gland enlarges, it compresses on the urethra, obstructing urine flow. This may cause incomplete emptying of the bladder, allowing bacteria to breed and multiply. Kidney stones may also cause obstruction in the ureters and cause infection.
Other causes include pregnancy, a weak immune system, and damaged nerves around the bladder. Pregnancy increases vaginal discharge, which may breed bacteria. A weak immune system renders a person susceptible to any form of infection. Injury to the central nervous system may cause nerve damage, blocking sensations towards the bladder. An existing urinary tract infection might go undetected and progress into kidney infection.
Signs of Kidney Infection
• fever and chills
• abdominal pain
• nausea and vomiting
• flank pain or back pain
• painful urination
• weakness and fatigue
• frequent urge to urinate
• Blood or pus in the urine
Dehydration, altered state of consciousness, confusion, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure may occur in more severe cases. These may be signs that the kidney infection has advanced into kidney damage or septicemia (infection of the blood).
Diagnosis of kidney infection
A kidney infection is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, and a complete medical history. Blood tests are done to check the kidney function. A urinalysis is also done to determine the presence of bacteria in the urine. The presence of other substances such as blood, white blood cells, pus, glucose, and protein are also signs that something is wrong. Imaging tests such as CT scans and xrays show the presence of stones and other causes of inflammation.
Management and treatment of kidney infection
The main treatment of pyelonephritis is the use of antibiotics. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics based on a urine culture and sensitivity test. This test determines the type of bacteria present and the medication it is sensitive to. Other medications may be prescribed to treat the accompanying signs of kidney infection – analgesics for pain, antipyretics for fever, and anti-emetics for vomiting. If the infection is severe, the doctor may require hospitalization. Antibiotics may be given intravenously to achieve faster effects and intravenous fluids may be given to treat dehydration if present.
If left untreated, pyelonephritis may lead to chronic kidney disease, and ultimately, to permanent kidney damage. Damage to the kidneys will affect all other systemic functions. It is important to seek medical help immediately if signs of kidney infection occur.