Pyelonephritis: causes, symptoms and prevention


Pyelonephritis is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that generally begins in your urethra or bladder and travels to one or both of your kidneys. It affects the upper part of the urinary tract. It is the most serious of the UTIs. Pyelonephritis causes the kidneys to swell and may permanently damage them.

What are the causes of pyelonephritis?

Bacteria enter the body through the urethra and begin to multiply and spread up to the bladder. From there, the bacteria travel through the ureters to the kidneys. Bacteria such as E. coli often cause the infection. However, any serious infection in the bloodstream can also spread to the kidneys and cause acute pyelonephritis. Risk factors include sexual intercourse, diabetes, structural problems of the urinary tract, and spermicide use.

Women are more at risk than men of developing a UTI. The following can be attributed to increasing the risk of UTIs in women:

  • The use of spermicide jelly or a diaphragm for contraception
  • A new sexual partner; that is an increase in sexual activity
  • A mother with a history of UTIs, and
  • A sufferer of constipation.

Women are also more likely to get an infection at particular times through their menstrual cycle, or while pregnant. In men, a UTI is normally the result of a sexually transmitted disease, or can develop when they have trouble with urine flow.

Symptoms of pyelonephritis

Signs and symptoms of a kidney infection might include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Back, side (flank) or groin pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pus or blood in your urine (hematuria)
  • Urine that smells bad or is cloudy


Antibiotics are the first course of action against acute pyelonephritis. However, the type of antibiotic your doctor chooses depends on whether or not the bacteria can be identified. If not, a broad-spectrum antibiotic is used.

If your kidney infection is severe and you’re unable to take medications on your own, you may be hospitalized for a period of time. While in the hospital, you will most likely receive antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or ceftriaxone intravenously (through a vein in your arm).


Reduce your risk of kidney infection by taking steps to prevent urinary tract infections. Women, in particular, may reduce their risk of urinary tract infections if they:

  • Drink fluids, especially water. Fluids can help remove bacteria from your body when you urinate.
  • Urinate as soon as you need to. Avoid delaying urination when you feel the urge to urinate.
  • Empty the bladder after intercourse. Urinating as soon as possible after intercourse helps clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of infection.
  • Wipe carefully. Wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra.
  • Avoid using feminine products in the genital area. Using products such as deodorant sprays in your genital area or douches can be irritating.

About felclinic 593 Articles
Felix Ntifo is a Registered General Nurse who has so much passion to improve health care delivery. He founded FelClinic with the hope of making health information accessible to everyone who may not come in contact with him personally. "At we are very passionate about health and well-being of everyone. Our team is made up of professional doctors, nurses, midwives and lab technicians."

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