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Kidney Infection (Adult, Female)

Illustration showing the outline of the body with the organs of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra.

An infection in one or both kidneys is called "pyelonephritis." It is usually caused when bacteria or a virus get into the kidney. The bacteria or virus can enter the kidneys from the bladder or blood traveling from other parts of the body. A kidney infection can become serious. It can cause severe illness, scarring of the kidneys, or kidney failure if not treated properly.

Common causes for this problem include:

  • Not keeping the genital area clean and dry, which promotes the growth of bacteria

  • Wiping back to front which drags bacteria from the rectum toward the urinary opening (urethra)

  • Wearing tight pants or underwear (this lets moisture build up in the genital area, which helps bacteria grow)

  • Holding urine in for long periods of time

  • Dehydration

Kidney infections can cause symptoms similar to a bladder infection. Symptoms include:

  • Pain (or burning) when urinating

  • Having to urinate more often than usual

  • Blood in the urine (pink or red)

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort, usually in the lower abdomen

  • Pain in the side or back

  • Pain above the pubic bone

  • Fever or chills

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

 Treatment is oral antibiotics, or in more severe cases, intramuscular or IV antibiotics. These are started right away and may be changed once urine culture results determine the infecting organisms. Treatment helps prevent a more serious kidney infection.


Medicines can help in the treatment of a bladder infection:

  • Take antibiotics until they are used up, even if you feel better. It is important to finish them to make sure the infection has cleared.

  • Unless another medicine was prescribed, you can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, fever, or discomfort. If you have chronic liver of kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, or are taking blood thinner medicines.

Home care

The following are general care guidelines:

  • Stay home from work or school. Rest in bed until your fever breaks and you are feeling better, or as advised by your doctor.

  • Drink lots of fluid unless you must restrict fluids for other medical reasons. This will force the medicine into your urinary system and flush the bacteria out of your body. Ask your doctor how much you should drink.

  • Avoid sex until you have finished all of your medicine and your symptoms are gone.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. These foods may irritate the kidney and bladder.

  • Avoid taking bubble baths. Sensitivity to the chemicals in bubble baths can irritate the urethra.

  • Make sure you wipe from front to back after using the toilet.

  • Wear loose cloths and cotton underwear.


These self-care steps can help prevent future infections:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and flush out the bladder. Do this unless you must restrict fluids for other health reasons, or your doctor told you not to.

  • Proper cleaning after going to the bathroom in important. Make sure you wipe from front to back after using the toilet.

  • Urinate more often. Don't try to hold urine in for a long time.

  • Avoid tight-fitting pants and underwear.

  • Improve your diet to prevent constipation. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and fiber. Eat less junk and fatty foods. Constipation can make a urinary tract infection more likely. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble with bowel movements.

  • Urinate right after intercourse to flush out the bladder.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor or as advised. During the follow up, additional testing may be needed to make sure the infection has cleared. Close follow up and further testing is very important to find the cause and to prevent future infections.

If a urine culture was done, you will be contacted if your treatment needs to be changed. If directed, you can call to find out the results.

If you had an X-ray, CT scan, or other diagnostic test, you will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher after 48 hours of treatment, or as advised by your doctor

  • Not feeling better within 1 to 2 days after starting antibiotics

  • Any symptom that continues after 3 days of treatment

  • Increasing pain in the stomach, back, side, or groin area

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Not able to take prescribed medicine due to nausea or another reason

  • Bloody, dark-colored, or foul smelling urine

  • Trouble urinating or decreased urine output

  • No urine for 8 hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

Call 911

Call for emergency care if any of the following occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid or very slow heart rate

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

  • Difficulty arousing or confusion


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