When Kidney Infections Require Immediate Hospital Attention

What is a Kidney Infection?

A kidney infection, also known as pyelonephritis, is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that affects one or both kidneys. The condition can be caused by bacteria that enters the urinary tract and spreads to the kidneys. Symptoms of a kidney infection can range from mild to severe and can include fever, chills, back pain, and nausea.

What are the Symptoms of a Kidney Infection?

The symptoms of a kidney infection can vary, but some common ones include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Back pain, especially in the upper back and side
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent urination or a strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Pus or blood in the urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

When is a Kidney Infection an Emergency?

While most kidney infections can be treated with antibiotics and plenty of fluids, some cases require immediate medical attention. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical help right away:

  • High fever (above 101°F)
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or back
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Difficulty breathing

If left untreated, a kidney infection can lead to serious complications, such as kidney damage, sepsis, or even death.

Who is at Risk for Kidney Infections?

Anyone can get a kidney infection, but some people are more at risk than others. Risk factors for kidney infections include:

  • Being female
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having a history of UTIs or kidney infections
  • Having a blockage in the urinary tract, such as a kidney stone
  • Using a catheter
  • Having an enlarged prostate (men)

How are Kidney Infections Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of a kidney infection, your doctor will likely do a physical exam, ask about your medical history and symptoms, and order a urine test. The urine test will check for bacteria in your urine and may also check for blood or pus. In some cases, your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan.

How are Kidney Infections Treated?

Most kidney infections can be treated with antibiotics and plenty of fluids. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help with fever and pain. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you start feeling better.

If your kidney infection is severe or does not respond to antibiotics, you may need to be hospitalized. In the hospital, you may receive antibiotics through an IV and may need to have fluids and electrolytes replenished.

Preventing Kidney Infections

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a kidney infection, such as:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
  • Urinate after sex
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays or douches
  • Avoid holding urine for long periods of time
  • Take a shower instead of a bath
  • Avoid tight-fitting pants or underwear


1. Is a kidney infection contagious?

No, a kidney infection is not contagious. It is caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract and spread to the kidneys.

2. Can a kidney infection go away on its own?

It is possible for a mild kidney infection to go away on its own, but it is not recommended to wait it out. Without treatment, a kidney infection can lead to serious complications.

3. Will drinking cranberry juice prevent kidney infections?

While some studies have suggested that cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs, there is no conclusive evidence that it can prevent kidney infections.

4. Can a kidney infection cause permanent damage?

If left untreated, a kidney infection can cause permanent damage to the kidneys.

5. Can men get kidney infections?

Yes, men can get kidney infections, but they are more common in women.

6. Can you die from a kidney infection?

In rare cases, a severe kidney infection can lead to sepsis and death.

7. How long does it take to recover from a kidney infection?

With treatment, most people recover from a kidney infection within a week or two. However, it may take longer to fully regain your strength and energy.

8. Can you get a kidney infection from holding your urine?

Holding your urine for a long time can increase your risk of getting a UTI, which can lead to a kidney infection.

9. Can a bladder infection turn into a kidney infection?

Yes, if left untreated, a bladder infection (also known as cystitis) can spread to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection.

10. Can stress cause a kidney infection?

Stress can weaken the immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections, but it is not a direct cause of kidney infections.


Kidney infections can be a serious condition if left untreated. Symptoms such as high fever, severe pain, and confusion or disorientation require immediate medical attention. While some kidney infections can be treated with antibiotics, they can cause permanent damage to the kidneys if left untreated. It is important to take preventive steps, such as drinking plenty of water, wiping from front to back, and avoiding holding urine for long periods of time, to reduce your risk of getting a kidney infection.

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