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Kidney Infection

A kidney infection, known medically as pyelonephritis, happens when a bacterium gets into one of the kidney, typically by making its way up the urethra from the outside. The most common bacterium which causes infections is E. coli (making up 80% of infections) and urine is normally sterile, in other words without any bacteria in it. Bacteria usually come from the surrounding areas of the genitals and the anus.

Kidney infections are sometimes referred to as upper urinary tract infections, with cystitis or bladder infections called lower urinary tract infections. Women are more likely to suffer a urinary infection than men, thought to be due to the shorter length of the urethra in women. The likelihood of getting an infection is around 40% for women and 10% for men throughout their lives. Pregnant women are also more likely to suffer this infection and it is thought around ten percent do.

More information about kidney infection is available at NHS Choices and Wikipedia's Pyelonephritis page.


Symptoms of a Kidney Infection

The usual kidney pain symptoms are kidney ache or kidney pain in the flank (side of the abdomen or low back), the abdomen or lower back areas, with nausea and vomiting, fatigue, diarrhoea, dehydration and a high temperature also possible. Some people have very few symptoms of a kidney infection. Overall, kidney infections are relatively uncommon and most people who are otherwise well recover well with a course of antibiotics.

Kidney disease can be caused by a kidney infection although this is less common now with antibiotic treatment available. Kidney infection treatment consists of antibiotics, with good water intake and some rest.


Kidney stones give pain which is much more severe and coming in waves, distinguishing it from the steadier ache of kidney infection pain. However kidney stones, by blocking or slowing down the throughput of urine down the ureter, may increase the likelihood of kidney infections also.

Lower back pain and other conditions may give a pain in the flank area and these need distinguishing from true kidney pain, with some pain radiating through to appear as stomach pain or abdominal pain. A physiotherapist can help you with this diagnosis and treat you accordingly if the pain is low back pain or has another musculoskeletal cause.

Kidney pain – alcohol intake may affect the kidneys adversely to some degree but is not connected with an increased risk of kidney infection.

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