The kidneys are an important part of the urinary system and serve a number of functions in the body. The kidneys filter and process blood and help regulate blood pressure, contribute to the production of red blood cells, filter and flush out waste which results in urine, and maintain steady levels of electrolytes such as calcium and sodium, for example. Kidneys are located in the lower back area on either side below the diaphragm and are connected to the bladder by long tubes called ureters. The ureters drain the urine from the kidneys into the bladder, and the urine then exits the body through the urethra. This is the same in both males and females.
The main organs of the urinary tract are the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. If any of these components becomes infected, it’s referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI). A lower urinary tract infection refers to an infection involving the urethra and bladder (and, in men, also may include the prostate). An upper urinary tract infection refers to infection of the kidneys, which is also called pyelonephritis. Infection results when bacteria multiply and the body can no longer fight off so much of it. When the bacteria travels the urinary tract and enters the bladder, it can then spread to the kidneys, causing kidney infection. In rare cases, kidney infections can occur from bacteria elsewhere in the body from another infection, such as, for example, when a foreign object such as a heart valve has been placed in the body and develops an infection.
Kidney infections are not as common as lower urinary tract infections, and infections of the kidneys is more serious. They require prompt medical attention. Kidney infections are typically treated with the use of antibiotics. Adequate water and fluids are important during the treatment of all urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice has cleansing properties and helps fight infection as well. As you recover from a kidney infection, heating pads in the lower back or abdominal area may ease some discomfort or pain. If needed, it’s usually okay to take over the counter pain medicines containing acetaminophen.
Women are more likely to develop kidney infections than men. In females, the urethra is shorter, which can allow bacteria to spread through the urinary tract more quickly. Individuals with lowered immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, people with diabetes and cancer, are more likely to develop urinary tract infections. Some other main risk factors include sexually active individuals, conditions such as kidney stones or enlarged prostate which can cause the flow of urine to be more difficult, congenital abnormalities, pregnancy, and the use of catheters.
Some common signs of kidney infection include frequent urination or urges to urinate accompanied often with pain or burning, and sometimes with blood; abdominal pain or pressure; back pain; and sometimes fever and nausea. In the case of severe infections, the patient may also experience confusion, sweating, shaking chills, and extreme fatigue. If left untreated, kidney infections can lead to permanent kidney damage, and even blood poisoning (septicemia) since the kidneys play a large role in filtering waste from the blood. During a kidney infection, the bacteria can spread throughout the body as the kidneys return the “filtered” blood to the body for circulation.
There are a few ways to reduce your risk of contracting urinary tract infections and kidney infections. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water and cranberry juice, will help reduce your risk of developing UTIs. Urinate frequently rather than holding it in. Urinate after sexual intercourse. This will help flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urinary tract during sexual activity. Wash gently in a shower rather than a bath, and wipe carefully from front to back to avoid carrying germs from the anus back to the urethra. Also, certain products such as lotions and deodorants may irritate the genital area and cause bacteria to develop.
Kidney infections can be painful, but they don’t have to be scary. If you suspect you have a kidney infection, seek medical attention immediately so more complications and permanent damage does not result. Also, there are many ways to reduce your risk of developing a kidney infection. Practice good hygiene, and follow a few simple tips to help prevent infection.