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Kidney Infection and stones

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The kidneys

Your body has two kidneys one on each side of your abdomen. Each kidney makes urine, which then drains down the ureter’s and into the bladder. The bladder then stores the urine until you pass it through the urethra when you go to the toilet.

What is a kidney infection?

Kidney infection or pyelonephritis as it’s medically known is an infection of one or both kidneys. Kidney infections can develop at any age and are usually more common in women.

What is a kidney stone? .

Stones can form in any part of the urinary tract and are quite common. Kidney stones can vary greatly in size from the size of a grain of sand to a pearl or even larger. They are often painless when in the kidney but can cause severe pain when they pass from the kidneys to the bladder.

What causes kidney infections?

Kidney infections develop when bacteria from the bladder travels up the kidneys, this can happen when you have cystitis, although most people who have cystitis will not get a kidney infection. For more information on cystitis click here.

A kidney infection that develops without a bladder infection can be caused by kidney stones or a blockage in one of the ureters. Occasionally bacteria can reach the kidneys from the bloodstream.

What causes kidney stones?

The cause of most stones is usually unknown though certain factors such as a family history, taking certain medications or having only 1 kidney may mean you are more likely to get a kidney stone.

80% of kidney stones are caused by calcium stones. A diet high in calcium and oxalate can make it more likely for stones to form. Medical conditions such as cancer, kidney disease are also factors that can cause calcium stones to develop.

Around 10% of stones are caused by magnesium and the waste product ammonia, these are known as struvite stones and are usually formed after long term urinary tract infections.

The other type of stone is a uric acid stone and is caused by too much acid in your urine. This type is more common if you have had chemotherapy or if you eat a lot of meat.

What symptoms are linked with kidney infections?

The following are symptoms that you may get with a kidney infection, you may not have all these symptoms, some people with a kidney infection will just feel generally unwell.

  • A dull ache or pain in the lower back or abdomen.
  • Pain when passing urine.
  • Feeling of wanting to pass urine more often than usual and yet having very little urine to pass.
  • Urine may be dark or cloudy and contain blood.
  • A high temperature, fever and shivering
  • Foul smelling urine.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.

People who continue to get kidney infections may develop chronic pyelonephritis. However, this usually only happens if you have another underlying kidney problem such as large kidney stones.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

Some kidney stones may cause no symptoms and many people never know they have them. Kidney stones usually only cause symptoms when they become large enough to interfere with the normal flow of urine, when they travel out of the kidneys or when they cause an infection. Symptoms of a kidney stone can be quite sudden and cause intense pain, usually concentrated on one side of the back but may move into the stomach or down to the groin. This pain can be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. You may also have symptoms of a kidney infection (see above).

How are kidney infections diagnosed?

Your doctor should be able to diagnose a kidney infection from your symptoms. However they will be able to confirm the diagnosis with a urine test to find out what is causing your infection. Your doctor may also carry out a blood test to check for bacteria in the blood.

We sell a urine dip stick test for cystitis on this website, for more information on this test or to buy click here.

A urine or blood test is usually all that is needed. However, if your doctor believes an underlying problem, such as kidney stones may be the cause of an infection, then they may recommend that you have an x-ray, MRI scan or a CT scan. As kidney infections are less common in men and children further tests may be carried out.

How is a kidney stone diagnosed?

In many cases describing your pain to your doctor may be enough. However an x-ray or scan may be required to reveal the size and location of the stone. Once a kidney stone diagnosis has been confirmed you may require blood tests to identify why the stone has formed.

How is a kidney infection treated?

Most kidney infections are treated with a course of antibiotics. Painkillers can also help ease the pain and reduce any temperature.

When you have a kidney infection you must try to prevent dehydration, to do this drink at least 2 litres of water a day, unless you have another medical condition that means you are unable to drink that much.

In the majority of cases antibiotics will clear up the infection. However, in some cases you may need to be admitted to hospital, this may be because the infection is severe, your infection does not respond to antibiotics or you are at risk of dehydration from being sick or are going to the toilet a lot. In hospital antibiotics will be administered directly into one of your veins so that they work immediately.

How are kidney stones treated?

Most kidney stones are small and so will be excreted with urine within hours or days . You may need to take painkillers to ease the pain and in some cases pain can be so intense you may need to be admitted to hospital for strong pain relief.

If the kidney stone is too large to come out by itself or the pain continues then you may require a different form of treatment. There are different treatment options available depending on the size and type of stone. Treatment options are as follows:

  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL), this is the most common method and does not involve surgery. A machine that produces shock waves from outside your body is used to break the stones into tiny fragments which can then be passed in your urine.
  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL), a procedure where a tiny instrument called a nephroscope is passed through a small cut in your back and into your kidney. The nephroscope can then pull out the kidney stone or break it up using shock waves. This procedure is normally used when the stone is quite large.
  • Ureterscopy, if a stone gets lodged in the ureter then a flexible tube called a cystoscope can be passed up your urethra, into the bladder and then into the ureter. Once the stone can be seen, it may be caught and removed or broken up into tiny fragments so it can be passed with urine.

If none of these methods are possible then traditional surgery may be an option.

Are there any complications from kidney infections?

Most people with kidney infections will make a full recovery. Occasionally kidney infections can cause an abscess in your kidney. If this occurs you may need surgery to remove the pus that has built up.

If your kidney infection is not treated then the bacteria can get into your bloodstream and this can lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can be very serious.

Repeated kidney infections can lead to scarring and permanent damage to the kidneys. Your doctor will advise on the best way to manage this condition.