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Drinking water is the best way to prevent a kidney infection.

Drinking water is the best way to prevent a kidney infection.
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Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)

Pyelonephritis is the medical term used for a kidney infection. It can make you very unwell, but usually gets better with treatment. See a doctor as soon as you can if you think you might have pyelonephritis. You will lower the risk of damage to your kidneys by getting prompt treatment.

Types of pyelonephritis

Pyelonephritis can be acute or chronic. If pyelonephritis comes on, then goes away with treatment, that symptom is acute.

But chronic pyelonephritis comes and goes, or perhaps never really goes away. This can damage the kidneys. Chronic pyelonephritis usually happens if there is a problem causing urine to flow backwards from the bladder up into the kidneys.

What causes pyelonephritis?

Pyelonephritis is usually caused by bacteria. The bacteria can spread to the kidneys from a bladder infection. Some people with diabetes, or who have a blockage in their urinary tract, are more likely to get pyelonephritis.

Pyelonephritis symptoms

If you have pyelonephritis you might have:

  • kidney pain, which you feel in your back or on your side
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fevers and chills
  • smelly, cloudy or bloody urine
  • burning pain when you pass urine
  • the need to pass urine more often than usual.

If you're not sure whether or not you might have pyelonephritis, you can use healthdirect’s Symptom Checker as a guide.

Pyelonephritis diagnosis

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. If they suspect you have pyelonephritis, they may ask you to have some tests. A urine test can help find out if there is an infection in your urinary tract.

You may need an ultrasound to make sure there is no blockage in your urinary tract. You might also have blood tests to check for infection in the bloodstream.

Pyelonephritis treatment

If you have pyelonephritis, you might need to start your treatment in hospital. At first, antibiotics are given through a drip. When you have improved enough, you then take antibiotics by mouth, which can be done at home.

If you have pain, paracetamol can provide some relief. Ask your doctor what else may help.

If you have a blockage in your urinary tract that has caused pyelonephritis, you might need surgery urgently.

Pyelonephritis prevention

You can reduce your risk of pyelonephritis by drinking plenty of water and by seeing your doctor if you think you have a urinary tract infection. If you are diabetic, keeping up with treatment will help. And if you tend to get urinary tract infections after sex, than make sure you pass urine as soon as possible after sex.

More information

For more information, see Kidney Health Australia or call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Last reviewed: June 2016

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