Pyelonephritis is a nasty kidney infection caused by bacteria invading the main urine-producing area of the kidney (the parenchyma). If the infection is left untreated it can become extremely painful and lead to the patient requiring urgent hospital admission for intravenous antibiotics and fluids to avoid sepsis developing.

Pyelonephritis can affect people of any age however it is most commonly found in young women who are sexually active. The increased risk to women is thought to be linked to the fact they are generally more susceptible to bladder infections (“cystitis”).  Occasionally these can result in an ascending infection into the kidneys and pyelonephritis develops.

The treatment for this condition is a 10-14 day course of appropriate antibiotics after a urine culture has been taken (a mid-stream sample – MSU).  If treated early the patient can make a quick recovery but must complete the antibiotic course.  If, however, the start of treatment is delayed the patient can become acutely unwell with a raised temperature, back/loin pain, nausea, and vomiting and may need admission to hospital.

Patients with a kidney infection will usually notice the symptoms within a few hours. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Fever/shivers
  • Pain in the lower back or side of the stomach
  • Urine that is cloudy or smelly
  • Blood in the urine (haematuria)
  • Urine that is painful or burning
  • Developing the sudden urge to urinate

A kidney infection can be diagnosed from the symptom history combined with a urine test.  Sometimes blood tests and kidney scans are added if the patient is particularly unwell.  The shivers/fever and low back pain suggest the kidney may be involved and separate the symptoms from those of a “routine” urinary bladder infection in which the patient experiences bladder symptoms alone.  Your GP will prescribe you a course of antibiotics; this will help to stop the infection from spreading and eventually irradicate the bacteria. You should return back to normal within a few weeks but if you have been admitted to the hospital it can sometimes take up to 6 weeks to return to normal after hospital discharge.  Most patients make a full recovery after the infection and it rarely causes any long-term kidney damage.

Here are some everyday lifestyle changes you can consider to everyday help reduce your risk of contracting urinary infections and pyelonephritis.

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Do not hold in urination
  • Urinate before and after having sex
  • Wipe from front to back after going to the toilet
  • Wash your genitals daily
  • Wear protection during sex

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.