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Pyelonephritis is a serious bacterial infection of the kidney that can be acute or chronic. One of the most common renal diseases, acute pyelonephritis is a sudden inflammation caused by bacteria. It primarily affects the interstitial area and the renal pelvis or, less often, the renal tubules. Chronic pyelonephritis is persistent kidney inflammation that can scar the kidneys and may lead to chronic renal failure. This disease is most common in patients who are predisposed to recurrent acute pyelonephritis, such as those with urinary obstructions or vesicoureteral reflux.

Alternative Names of Pyelonephritis are: Kidney Infection.

Complications of Pyelonephritis

If left untreated, a kidney infection can lead to potentially serious complications, such as:

  • Permanent kidney damage. A kidney infection can lead to permanent kidney damage that causes chronic kidney failure.
  • Blood poisoning (septicemia). Your kidneys filter waste from your blood and then return your blood to the rest of your body. If you have a kidney infection, the bacteria can spread as the kidneys return blood to circulation.
  • Pregnancy complications. Women who develop a kidney infection during pregnancy may have an increased risk of delivering low birth weight babies.

Causes of Pyelonephritis

Kidney infection typically occurs when bacteria enter your urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply. Bacteria from an infection elsewhere in your body also can spread through your bloodstream to your kidneys. Kidney infection is unusual through this route, but it can occur in some circumstances — for instance, when a foreign body, such as an artificial joint or heart valve, gets infected. Rarely, kidney infection results after kidney surgery.

Signs & Symptoms of Pyelonephritis

Signs and symptoms of a Pyelonephritis may include:

  1. Fever
  2. Back, side (flank) or groin pain
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Frequent urination
  5. Strong, persistent urge to urinate
  6. Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  7. Pus or blood in your urine (hematuria)

Diagnosis of Pyelonephritis

Your doctor may suspect you have a kidney infection based on your signs and symptoms, such as fever and upper back pain. If your doctor suspects you have kidney infection, he or she will likely ask for a urine sample to determine whether bacteria, blood or pus is in your urine.

Treatments of Pyelonephritis

Antibiotics for kidney infections

Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for kidney infections. Which drugs you use and for how long depends on your health condition and the bacteria found in your urine tests. Usually, the signs and symptoms of a kidney infection begin to clear up within a few days of treatment. But you may need to continue antibiotics for a week or longer. Take the entire course of antibiotics recommended by your doctor to ensure that the infection is completely eliminated.

Hospitalization for severe kidney infections

For a severe kidney infection, your doctor may admit you to the hospital. Treatment in the hospital may include antibiotics that you receive through a vein in your arm (intravenously). How long you'll stay in the hospital depends on the severity of your condition.

Treatment for recurrent kidney infections

When kidney infections recur frequently or an infection becomes chronic; your doctor will likely recommend that you seek medical care from a specialist who can identify underlying and potentially treatable causes.

Recurrent kidney infections may result from an underlying medical problem, such as a structural abnormality. Your doctor may refer you to a kidney specialist (nephrologist) or urinary surgeon (urologist) for an evaluation to determine if urologic abnormalities may be causing your infections. A structural abnormality may need to be surgically repaired.

Prevention of Pyelonephritis

Reduce your risk of kidney infection by taking steps to prevent urinary tract infections. Women, in particular, may reduce their risk of urinary tract infections if they:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Drinking plenty of liquids can help remove bacteria from your body when you urinate.
  • Urinate frequently. Avoid holding back when you feel the urge to urinate.
  • Empty the bladder after intercourse. Urinating as soon as possible after intercourse helps to clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of infection.
  • Wipe carefully. For women, wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement helps to prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the urethra.
  • Wash gently. Wash the skin around your vagina and anus carefully every day. But don't use harsh soaps or wash vigorously. The delicate skin around these areas can become irritated.
  • Avoid using feminine products in the genital area. Using feminine products, such as deodorant sprays or douches, in your genital area can irritate your urethra.

When to seek Medical Advice

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Also make an appointment if you're being treated for a urinary tract infection, but your signs and symptoms aren't improving. Severe kidney infection can lead to life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience typical kidney infection symptoms combined with bloody urine or nausea and vomiting.

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