How Can You Tell if You Have a Kidney Infection?

Medically Reviewed on 12/10/2020

9 Symptoms of kidney infection

Kidney Infection Signs
The infection can spread from the kidneys through the blood causing widespread infection in the body called sepsis.

Kidney infection or pyelonephritis is a serious medical condition in which there is an infection of one or both the kidneys. If you have a kidney infection you may experience the following symptoms:

  1. Pain is generally felt in the sides of the trunk or anywhere between the middle or upper back. The pain is mostly felt under the ribs and depending on the involvement of one or both the kidneys, the pain may be felt on one side or both sides of the body. Kidney pain may also be felt in areas, such as the belly or groin.
  2. Fever that is generally high-grade and may be associated with chills
  3. Nausea with or without vomiting
  4. Frequent urination
  5. Pain or difficulty in passing urine
  6. Burning sensation while passing urine
  7. Offensive or putrid urine smell
  8. Change in the appearance of the urine, such as cloudy or blood-tinged urine (hematuria)
  9. Pus in the urine (pyuria)

Kidney infection or pyelonephritis is a serious medical condition. Kidney infections, if left untreated, may cause serious complications, such as irreversible kidney damage or kidney failure. The infection can spread from the kidneys through the blood causing widespread infection in the body called sepsis.
Thus, you must seek urgent medical care if you think you have a kidney infection to get yourself evaluated.
 

How do doctors diagnose a kidney infection?

Doctors can diagnose a kidney infection by:
  • Taking your detailed medical history, which includes the presence of any symptoms (such as pain, problems with passing urine, and fever) or presence of any underlying medical conditions like diabetes and kidney stones.
  • Doing your physical examination, which may include a digital rectal examination or DRE. This involves a physical examination of the prostate gland (a part of the reproductive system in men.
  • Laboratory examinations include:
    • Urine analysis
    • Blood examinations that include blood counts, kidney function tests, and blood culture (to look for bacteria in the blood)
    • Urine culture to look for bacteria in the urine
  • Imaging studies such as:
    • X-ray
    • Kidney ultrasound or USG
    • Computed Tomography (CT) scan
    • Voiding cystourethrogram or VCUG (it is an x-ray imaging technique that uses a contrast dye to visualize the bladder and urethra, and the image is taken while the bladder is full and while passing urine)
    • Dimercaptosuccinic acid or DMSA scintigraphy (this is a test that uses small amounts of radioactive material to examine how well the kidneys are functioning using special cameras and computers)

How are kidney infections treated?

The doctor will treat kidney infections with appropriate antibiotics. The urine and blood examination involves finding which antibiotic will work the best in the given infection. If the general condition of the patient is stable, they are given antibiotic pills that can be taken at home. In the case of seriously ill patients or patients with severe vomiting, hospital admission may be done. Such patients are given antibiotics and fluids through the vein (intravenously or IV). The doctor may give other medications, such as painkillers and antiemetics (medications that prevent vomiting). A urine culture may be done to know whether the infection has cleared, and the antibiotics may be given for a longer duration if needed.

In patients with problems, such as kidney stones and structural abnormalities of the urinary tract, surgery may be done.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/10/2020
References
Urology Care Foundation. Kidney (Renal) Infection – Pyelonephritis. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/k/kidney-(renal)-infection-pyelonephritis

Cleveland Clinic. Kidney Pain. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17688-kidney-pain