How long does it take a UTI to turn into a kidney infection

How long does it take a UTI to turn into a kidney infection

How Long Does a UTI Take to Become a Kidney Infection?

To avoid serious health problems, including kidney infections, it is crucial to treat urinary tract infections promptly. If you have ongoing symptoms or recurring UTIs, it’s important to see a healthcare professional.

Kidney infections, also known as pyelonephritis, are a severe type of UTI. They occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract, travel to the bladder, and then continue spreading to one or both kidneys.

Kidneys are vital organs responsible for trapping and eliminating waste and toxins through urine. Depending on the individual, symptoms of a kidney infection may appear as soon as two hours after the kidneys become infected.

Kidney infections usually develop when bacteria multiply and are left untreated. Fortunately, most complications can be prevented with prompt treatment.

Can a UTI Progress to a Kidney Infection?

The urinary system typically does not contain bacteria, but bacteria from the intestine, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), can enter the urinary tract. This can cause cystitis (bladder inflammation) and lead to a UTI.

If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, their function may become impaired. This can result in the blood becoming infected, potentially leading to a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.

Frequent bladder infections, structural issues in the urinary tract, or kidney stones can also contribute to the development of kidney infections. Normally, urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder. If urine flows in the wrong direction, kidney infections can occur.

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Causes of UTIs

Having bacteria in the bladder does not always cause a UTI. Other factors that increase the risk of UTIs include:

Sex: Women have a shorter urethra, allowing bacteria to enter the bladder easily. The urethral opening in women is also closer to the anus and vagina, which are common sources of bacteria. Sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria to the urethral opening.

Dehydration: Sufficient water intake is necessary to flush out bacteria and waste from the body. Inadequate hydration allows bacteria to multiply in the bladder.

Delaying Urination: Holding urine for extended periods encourages bacterial growth and increases the risk of UTIs.

Hormonal Changes During Pregnancy: Hormonal changes in pregnancy make it easier for bacteria to spread through the urinary tract, leading to UTIs.

Obstruction of Urine Flow: Sexual intercourse, kidney stones, enlarged prostate, or tumors can obstruct urine flow, creating an environment for infection.

Diabetes or Weak Immune System: People with diabetes or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infections due to compromised immune function.

Use of Catheters: Catheters, which are tubes inserted into the urethra and bladder to drain urine, can introduce bacteria and increase the risk of infection.

Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

Common symptoms of UTIs include:

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination
  • Fever
  • Cloudy, foul-smelling urine, sometimes with blood
  • Frequent urge to urinate, with only a small amount passed
  • Recurrent nighttime urination

If left untreated, a UTI can quickly progress to a kidney infection.

Symptoms of a Kidney Infection

The symptoms of a kidney infection can vary depending on age. If you have a UTI and experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately:

  • Chills and shivering
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pus or blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the side or groin
  • Mental confusion
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Diagnosing a Kidney Infection

Medical history, physical examination, and laboratory or imaging tests are used to confirm a kidney infection. Your doctor will inquire about symptoms during the physical examination.

The following tests may be necessary to diagnose a kidney infection:

Laboratory Tests:

Urinalysis: A urine sample is examined under a microscope for the presence of bacteria or white blood cells, which indicate infection. It is important to note that bacteria can be present in the urine of healthy individuals, so the diagnosis of a kidney infection is based on symptoms and lab results.

Urine Culture: This test checks for bacteria or germs in the urine that can cause UTIs. The doctor observes how much the bacteria have multiplied within 1 to 3 days to determine appropriate treatment.

Imaging Tests:

Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound may be performed to aid in the diagnosis of a kidney infection.

Treating a Kidney Infection

Kidney infections are typically treated with antibiotics for 7 to 14 days. Symptoms usually improve within a few days of treatment, but it is important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed to prevent recurrence.

Painkillers such as paracetamol may be prescribed to alleviate pain and fever. In cases of severe pain, stronger painkillers may be necessary.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not recommended for patients with kidney infections, as they can negatively affect kidney function.

In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed before test results arrive, with adjustments made to the medication once the results are available.

If the kidney infection is advanced, hospitalization for bed rest and IV fluids may be required.

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Preventing Kidney Infections

You can reduce the risk of kidney infections by following these practices:

  • Stay well-hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps eliminate bacteria after urination.
  • Urinate after sexual intercourse: Urinating immediately after sex helps clear bacteria from the urethra, reducing the risk of infection.
  • Urinate promptly when the urge arises: Delaying urination allows bacteria to multiply in the bladder, increasing the risk of infection.
  • Wipe front to back after using the toilet.

Failure to treat a UTI can lead to serious health complications, such as kidney infection, which can cause damage to one or both kidneys. If you experience recurring UTIs, it is advisable to visit your doctor regularly for kidney checkups.


American Kidney Fund: "Kidney infection – Symptoms, treatment and prevention"

The Johns Hopkins University: "What is a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?"

National Health Service: "Kidney infection."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diagnosis of Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)", "Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)", "Treatment for Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)"

National Institute of Child Health and Development: "What causes UTIs & UI?"

National Kidney Foundation: "Infectious Disease and Your Kidneys"

The Nemours Foundation: "Urinary Tract Infections"

NephCure Kidney International: "What is the Function of Our Kidneys?"

Patient: "Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)"

Urology Care Foundation: "What is Kidney (Renal) Infection – Pyelonephritis?"

Urology Care Foundation: "What is Kidney (Renal) Infection – Pyelonephritis?"


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