Pyelonephritis is a kidney infection that typically occurs suddenly and severely. It is a type of urinary tract infection that begins in the bladder and spreads to the kidneys. Pyelonephritis makes the kidneys swell and can cause permanent damage without proper treatment.
Isolated instances of pyelonephritis are called acute pyelonephritis. If someone experiences repeated attacks, they might have chronic pyelonephritis. The chronic form of pyelonephritis is most common in children or people with urinary obstructions.
Pyelonephritis usually begins as a urinary tract infection in the lower urinary tract. Bacteria enter the urinary tract, multiply, and spread to the kidneys. A urinary tract infection can spread to any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Beyond a urinary tract infection, any severe bloodstream infection can travel to the kidneys and cause pyelonephritis.
There are several conditions that could increase risk of developing pyelonephritis. See the section below regarding risk factors and groups to learn more about which conditions might cause a kidney infection.
Pyelonephritis comes on suddenly and severely. The symptoms listed below could develop intensely and without warning. Symptoms typically develop within two days of infection.
Pyelonephritis symptoms include:
Pyelonephritis symptoms might present differently in adults and children. Adults are more likely than children to experience brain fog as a symptom of pyelonephritis, and it is often the only noticeable symptom. Younger children might only have a high fever.
Chronic pyelonephritis often does not present symptoms at all, and the symptoms that do develop are usually mild.
Any issue that might obstruct urine flow can cause pyelonephritis. The presence of urine obstructions can help determine risk factors and groups for pyelonephritis.
These risk factors and groups include:
Chronic pyelonephritis occurs most often in people with urinary obstructions. A urinary obstruction can come from vesicoureteral reflux, anatomical anomalies, and urinary tract infections. Children are more likely than adults to develop chronic pyelonephritis.
Initially, a doctor will assess a patient for a fever and tenderness in the abdomen. If results from those initial checks warrant suspicion of a kidney infection, then the doctor will assess for pyelonephritis using different types of testing.
Testing for pyelonephritis might include:
Pyelonephritis treatment depends on severity. Treatment plans might include:
Lifestyle changes can reduce risk of pyelonephritis. Including:
Some at-home remedies can supplement a pyelonephritis treatment plan, including:
Contact a doctor as soon as concerning symptoms develop. Pyelonephritis develops suddenly and intensely. The earlier someone seeks treatment, the sooner a care team can stop the infection from spreading and causing further damage.
Pyelonephritis is not necessarily life-threatening, but it can cause permanent damage or even death if left untreated. A week-long antibiotic treatment plan can resolve less severe cases, while hospitalization and surgery might be necessary to treat more severe cases. Simple lifestyle changes can prevent the majority of pyelonephritis cases.
Pregnant women are at increased risk for developing pyelonephritis. Most pregnant women with pyelonephritis will require hospitalization, as the condition impacts the health of not only the mother, but the baby, as well. Symptoms typically resolve within a few days using a hospital’s treatment plan. A urine culture in the first few months of a pregnancy will detect early symptoms of a urinary tract infection and prevent it from spreading further.