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Pyelonephritis or kidney infection  

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Pyelonephritis is a serious kidney infection that spreads to the blood and further causes several other health complications. People who suffer from bladder infections and UTI quite frequently are at risk of having pyelonephritis.

Bacterial infection from the urinary tract can travel up to the kidneys, leading to pyelonephritis. It leads to inflammation of the kidney tissue, calyces and the pelvis. The condition causes swelling of the kidneys. This can damage the kidneys and lead to a life-threatening situation. It is very important to understand the symptoms immediately and seek medical help. In case of repeated attacks of pyelonephritis (very rare), the condition is called as chronic pyelonephritis.

Symptoms of pyelonephritis

  • Burning pain while urination
  • Increased frequency with strong urge to urinate
  • Fever accompanied by chills
  • Back, side, abdominal, groin pain
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Foul smell from urine or fishy-smelling urine
  • Presence of blood in urine
  • Fatigue
  • Moist skin
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Chills
  • Mental confusion, especially in elderly patients

What causes pyelonephritis?

The predominant source of pyelonephritis is urinary tract infection. It could be caused by bacteria (E.coli) or a virus. If the infection is severe or untreated then it moves upward through the urethra, crosses the bladder and ultimately reaches the kidneys from where it gets distributed into the bloodstream.

Since women are more vulnerable to UTIs, it’s the same reason why cases of pyelonephritis are mostly found in women.

Another rare condition is chronic pyelonephritis,which usually occurs in children due to congenital defects in the kidney. This condition is usually found out in childhood itself.

When to see a doctor?

It is strongly advised to not neglect if you are sensing pain and burning while urinating and having fever simultaneously. Spread of infection to the kidneys can be stopped if the UTI has been treated earlier.

Complications of pyelonephritis

Pyelonephritis can be treated. Complications arise if it occurs in children or older people (>65 yrs) or in pregnant women. Additional health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes and CKD further complicate treatment. In rare circumstances pyelonephritis can lead to

  • Kidney scars or abscess
  • Blood sepsis
  • Emphysematous pyelonephritis (EPN)
  • Kidney failure (especially in children with chronic pyelonephritis)
  • Premature delivery during pregnancy

Diagnosis of pyelonephritis

Your doctor will review your medical history and past or recent incidence of UTI.

Let your doctor know the discomforts you are experiencing. He/she will physically examine your kidneys for pain and tenderness. You will be advised to undergo urine tests to check for the presence of the blood, pus, bacteria and white blood cells.

Furthermore, urine culture will be done to identify the bacteria.

Imaging tests like ultrasonography and CT scan of the kidneys and the bladder will also be recommended. It’s also done to detect urological abnormalities, which could be resulting in recurring infections, abscess, etc.

Treatment for pyelonephritis

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Pyelonephritis is treated with antibiotics. A treatment plan will determine when you require to complete the dose of antibiotics and continue for a specific period to prevent future incidents.

The antibiotics may be given orally or could be injected through a vein.

If the infection is severe, then you are most likely to be retained in hospital. A intravenous drip line will be provided. You will be advised complete bed rest until you get over the illness.

Although the complications are rare, if found will be treated simultaneously. For this you may be referred to a nephrologist.

You will have to repeat urine test after completing the antibiotic dose. If infection persists your doctor will prescribe another course of antibiotics for longer duration.

Coping with pyelonephritis at home

Apart from taking your antibiotics, you can try some home remedies to get relief from abdominal pain. You can have OTC pain killers after asking your doctor in case the pain is unbearable.

Drink plenty of water to keep your system hydrated. This also helps to get over the infection quickly. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.

You have to very careful about personal hygiene to minimize recurrence of UTI or potential chances of pyelonephritis. Take care.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 28, 2015