How Can I Avoid A Kidney Infection?

One of the most uncomfortable conditions our patients come to us at Westchester Health complaining about is a kidney infection, caused by bacteria travelling from your bladder, ureters or urethra into one or both of your kidneys. Some people confuse a kidney infection with cystitis, a common infection of the bladder that makes urinating painful, but a kidney infection is more serious.

Rhonda Rubin, MD

It is very important to treat kidney infections as soon as possible

Kidney infections that are not treated quickly can cause permanent kidney damage or can spread to other parts of your body and cause an even more serious infection, such as sepsis (blood poisoning, which can be life threatening) or an abscess (pus in the kidney).

7 things you can do to prevent kidney infections

You can lower your chances of getting a kidney infection by:

  1. Drinking plenty of water which helps remove bacteria from your body when you urinate
  2. Urinating as soon as you feel the need to do so
  3. Urinating after having sex
  4. Females: Wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom (helps keep bacteria from the vagina or anus from getting into the urethra)
  5. Females: Avoid using deodorant sprays or douches in your genital area
  6. Do not use condoms or diaphragms with spermicide, which can trigger bacteria growth. Instead, use lubricated condoms (unlubricated ones can irritate the urethra, which makes infection more likely)
  7. Treat a bladder infection (cystitis)

Who typically gets kidney infections?

Anyone can get a kidney infection, but you’re more likely to get one if you:

  • Have a bladder infection (cystitis). An infection in the bladder can spread to the kidneys
  • Are female. Women get kidney infections more often than men primarily due to their anatomy. In women, the urethra (the duct that transports urine from the bladder to the exterior of the body during urination) is shorter than in men, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the body and travel up the urinary tract. The urethra is also closer to the vagina and anus in women than in men. In women, bacteria can spread from the vagina and anus to the urethra, then travel up the urinary tract to the kidneys
  • Have a problem with your urinary tract that makes it harder for urine to pass through
  • Have a blockage in your urinary tract, such as a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate (in men)
  • Are pregnant
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a weakened immune system. This could be caused by a disease, such as diabetes or HIV, or by immunosuppressants (commonly taken by people who have had a kidney or other organ transplant)
  • Have nerve or spinal cord damage that prevents the feeling of pain in the genitourinary area which can keep you from noticing symptoms of a kidney infection
  • Use a catheter to drain urine from your bladder
  • Have vesicoureteral reflux which allows urine to flow backwards up the ureters, which can lead to kidney infections

Symptoms of a kidney infection

If you have a kidney infection, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in your back, side(s) or groin
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Urinating often
  • Feeling like you have to urinate often, even if you just went
  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Pus (thick white or yellow liquid) or blood in your urine
  • Cloudy or bad-smelling urine

However, a senior adult aged 65+ may have none of these symptoms, exhibiting instead:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Jumbled speech

And, a child younger than 2 years old with a kidney infection may only have a high fever.

If you notice any of these symptoms

Contact your doctor right away or call Westchester Health at (914) 232-1919 and we’ll direct you to the appropriate specialist.

What’s the treatment for a kidney infection?

  • Kidney infections are treated with antibiotics
  • In addition, your healthcare provider will probably ask for a urine sample to look for bacteria or other signs of infection
  • You might also need to have a blood test or imaging tests, such as an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan
  • If you have a very serious infection, you may need to go to a hospital to receive treatment as an inpatient
  • If your kidney infection was caused by a problem with your urinary tract, you may need surgery to correct the problem and prevent future kidney infections

A blog about preventing kidney stones

We’ve written a very informative blog focusing on how to avoid developing a kidney stone(s), which you can read here.

Helpful websites we recommend

Concerned that you may have a kidney infection? Please come see us.

If you’re worried that you may have a kidney infection, or if you’re having any kind of pain or problem with your kidneys or urination, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health nephrologists. We’ll examine you, evaluate your symptoms, perform some tests, and together with you, decide on the best course of treatment, given your particular condition. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Rhonda Rubin, MD, a nephrologist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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