Would you rather have smelly pee, burning pee, or cloudy pee? Well, with a kidney infection, you might not have to choose.

This condition can be painful and may cause beaucoup bathroom probs. It could also lead to long-term kidney damage if left untreated.

Here’s how to spot a kidney infection, plus top treatment tips.

Kidney infection fast facts

A kidney infection (aka pyelonephritis) is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that can affect one or both of your kidneys.

What causes a kidney infection?

The infection usually starts in your bladder or urethra and flows upstream to your kidneys. It can be bacterial or viral.

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection?

Common symptoms are painful urination and dark, cloudy, or bloody pee. You may also experience a dull ache in your back, abdomen, groin, or sides.

More serious symptoms can include chills, rashes, fever, mental confusion, fast breathing, or a rapid heart rate.

How to treat a kidney infection

Kidney infections require urgent attention and are usually treated with prescription antibiotics.

How serious is a kidney infection?

Kidney infections can get serious if left untreated. They can lead to permanent kidney damage and other health concerns.

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Kidney infections usually start somewhere in the lower urinary tract — like the bladder or urethra — and work their way up to the kidneys.

Symptoms usually kick in within a few hours but could develop over a few days. They can get worse the longer the infection persists.

You might experience:

  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • cloudy or smelly urine
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • blood or pus in your pee
  • burning or discomfort when you whiz
  • pain in your middle back, groin, abdomen, or sides

Symptoms can depend on your age and other health factors. Folks 65 and older might experience jumbled speech, hallucinations, or confusion. Meanwhile, kiddos under age 2 might only have a fever.

Is it dangerous?

It’s uber-important to treat your kidney infection ASAP. If left unchecked, it could lead to sepsis, which can be life threatening in severe cases.

Seek medical help pronto if you experience:

  • chills
  • fever
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • mid-back pain below your ribs on one side

Although rare, a skin rash is also a sign of a serious infection.

Anyone with a kidney can get a kidney infection. But there are some factors that bump up your risk:

  • Bladder infections. An estimated 1 in 30 bladder infections lead to kidney infections.
  • Pee problems. Bacteria is flushed out of your urinary tract when you pee. So peeps with pee problems might have an increased risk of infections. Prostate inflammation and kidney stones are common culprits.
  • Vagina ownership. Folks with a vajayjay have shorter urethras than peeps with a peen. This can make it easier for bacteria to get up into your bladder.
  • Preggo status. Infections can cause complications for you and your bébé 👶. Since bladder infections are pretty common in pregnant peeps, you should def avoid possible triggers.
  • Immune system issues. Conditions that weaken your immune system — such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), or HIV — can increase your risk of infections.
  • Use of a urinary catheter. Permanent or intermittent use of a catheter can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.

Kidney infections can cause pain in your mid back (above the waist), on one side, or under your ribs. The pain may also radiate to your lower abdomen or inner thighs. Since pain is a subjective sensation, it could feel dull, sharp, throbbing, or like pressure.

An over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever can help you manage the pain. Just keep in mind that it won’t cure the infection itself.

Kidney infections are less common in #TeamPeen. But they can still happen.

You might experience:

  • pain when peeing
  • nausea or vomiting
  • cloudy, bloody, or smelly urine

A doctor might give you a digital rectal exam to see if a swollen prostate is to blame.

Urine or blood tests may also be recommended if a swollen prostate (aka prostatitis) is a possibility.

Your kidney infection treatment will depend on your symptoms and overall health. But most of the time a doctor will suggest:

  • Prescription oral antibiotics. For mild cases and nonpregnant folks only, oral antibiotics may be prescribed. You’ll likely get the first dose in an urgent care or ER setting, via IV or injection. The doc will recommend a follow-up after 2 or 3 days. Moderate to severe cases require hospitalization for IV antibiotics and IV fluids.
  • Pain meds. Your doc might give you an Rx analgesic for the pain.
  • Follow-up tests. A blood or urine test will let your doc know if the treatment did its job.

Kidney infection antibiotics

Antibiotics are the go-to treatment for most kidney infections. Your doctor will run a urine test to make sure you get the right meds for your unique sitch.

Most antibiotics are taken once or twice a day for 7 to 14 days. The exact timing depends on which medication you use and how severe your symptoms are.

Some antibiotics commonly used to treat kidney infections caused by a bladder infection are:

  • trimethoprim (Proloprim, Primsol, or TMP)
  • ciprofloxacin (ProQuin XR, Cipro, or Cipro XR)
  • cephalexin (Acfex, Keflex, Ceporex, L-Xahl, Cephalex, or Medoxine)
  • amoxicillin (Moxilin, Amoxil, Amoxicot, Moxatag, DisperMox, or Trimox)

You can’t DIY a kidney infection away. But home remedies might help stave off some symptoms. Here’s the best of the bunch:

  • Take OTC pain relievers. These can’t cure a kidney infection, but they might relieve discomfort in the short term. Options like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help bring a fever down.
  • Ditch the caffeine and booze. Drinking alcohol or caffeine can make your kidneys work overtime. This extra strain might make it harder for your infection to clear. (P.S. Alcohol and antibiotics are NOT a good combo.)
  • Take a probiotic. Probiotics help your good bacteria bounce back after a round of antibiotics. Some research also suggests they can help folks with kidney issues.
  • Stay uber-hydrated. You’ll want to drink lots and lots of fluids to flush out your bladder and urethra as frequently as possible.
  • Try apple cider vinegar (ACV). There’s no scientific evidence that ACV is the MVP of kidney infections. But some folks like to drink it as a tonic for its antimicrobial properties. (Just be sure to dilute it before drinking!)

You can totes reduce your risk of kidney infection by making a few simple lifestyle switches:

  • Drink up. H₂O can help flush bad bacteria out of your urinary tract. Getting enough fluids on the reg can also reduce your risk of UTIs or kidney stones — so stay hydrated.
  • Don’t do the pee-pee dance. Holding in your pee gives bacteria more time to build up. So when you gotta go… GO!
  • Visit the whiz palace post-sex 🚽. Peeing after penetration or oral can reduce the risk of bacteria getting into your urinary tract.
  • Don’t douche. Vaginas are self-cleaning ovens, fam. They’re slightly acidic to ward off bad bacteria. Douching can mess up your natural flora balance and make you more prone to infections.
  • Wipe with caution. Always wipe from front to back when you pee or poop 💩 . This reduces the risk of butt bacteria spreading to your urethra.

Most kidney infection diagnoses require a pee sample. Urinalysis will test for bacteria and white blood cells in your pee. A urine culture will determine what type of bacteria is to blame. This helps your doctor prescribe the right type of antibiotics.

Your doc might also suggest an imaging test like an ultrasound or a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Kidney infections stink. They can cause smelly, burn-y, or cloudy pee. Plus, they can be 10/10 uncomfortable. Thankfully, most kidney infections can be treated with antibiotics. A doctor can prescribe these meds after they give you a diagnosis.

You can also try home remedies to ease your symptoms. But remember that they won’t cure the infection itself.

If you think you have a kidney infection, contact a doctor right away. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent kidney damage and other serious health concerns.