It may feel like all urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the same – they all feel pretty uncomfortable! But a UTI can occur anywhere within your urinary system and it’s important to know what to look for in case it travels to your kidneys. Read on to learn more about UTIs and Kidney Infections, and how to tell the difference between them.
What is a UTI, anyway?
A UTI, or urinary tract infection, happens when bacteria enters into any part of your urinary system, which includes the urethra, the bladder, the kidneys or the uterus. If not flushed out of the system, the bacteria can lead to an infection, or a UTI.
If you’ve ever had a UTI (they’re very common – about 60% of women and 12% of men will experience a UTI at least once in their lifetime), you probably haven’t forgotten the symptoms. UTIs are very unpleasant, to say the least, and are often accompanied with one or more of the following:
A burning sensation when urinating
A strong urge to urinate often, usually passing only small amounts of urine at a time. (And sometimes experiencing bladder leakage when you’re unable to make it to a toilet in time.)
Cloudy and/or strong smelling urine
Blood in the urine
How long does a UTI last?
If you have a UTI, it’s best to get it treated right away before any complications develop (and to alleviate the symptoms that go along with it). It’s possible for a UTI to get better on it’s own, but most of the time, it won’t. While home remedies can help ease some of the discomfort, a doctor can prescribe you an antibiotic that is a much quicker and more effective treatment. An antibiotic will start working immediately and, depending on how complicated your UTI is, may clear it up in a matter of days. Be sure to always take your medication how your doctor prescribes.
Ok, Got It. But then what is a kidney infection?
A kidney infection is, in essence, a UTI that has spread into the kidneys. While this type of infection is rare, it’s also very dangerous and if you’re experiencing any of the following signs of a kidney infection, you should see a doctor immediately:
Upper back or side pain
Fever, shaking or chills
While most kidney infections can be treated simply with an antibiotic, if left untreated, a kidney infection can cause damage to your kidneys, leading to chronic kidney disease. The bacteria could even spread to your bloodstream creating a life-threatening situation.
What about kidney stones – are they involved here somehow?
Sort of. A kidney stone isn’t an infection, but a collection of salt and minerals that hardens and turns into a “stone”. While some stones may be small others can be much larger. They may stay in the kidney, or begin to move into the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney and the bladder. When this happens, kidney stones can become extremely painful.
Kidney stones can be tricky, since they may have many of the same symptoms as a UTI or a kidney infection – pain when urinating, needing to urinate often, and cloudy or strong smelling urine, blood in the urine, fever, nausea or vomiting. And while stones often pass on their own, larger stones sometimes need to be broken up, or removed.
Sometimes, kidney stones can lead to a urinary tract infection or a kidney infection, so it’s important to get them checked out by your doctor. And, since the symptoms are so similar, getting a checkup is probably a good idea anyway just to rule out the possibility of an infection, and to make sure the stone is moving along as it should.
Ok. So how do I make sure I never get a UTI OR A Kidney Infection?
As they say, prevention is the best cure! And there are many things you can do to ensure that you’re reducing your risk for an infection, and preventing build up from occurring in the kidneys.
Practice good hygiene. Always wipe from front to back, keep your genital area clean, wash before and after sex. Basically, do your best to keep bacteria from even having a chance of getting into the urinary system in the first place.
Drink lots of water. If you’re dehydrated, you’re not only increasing your chance of a UTI, but you’re also decreasing your urine output, meaning that more minerals have a chance to build up and settle in the urinary tract or kidneys.
Make sure to urinate whenever you feel you have to go. Don’t hold it in. This concentrates the urine allowing bacteria to build up and spread.
Alter your diet if you find you’re prone to kidney stones. Cut down on certain meats and shellfish and opting instead for more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Avoid consuming too much sugar. Cut back on sodium, and eat more oxalate-rich foods (things like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes).
And if you do start experiencing any of the symptoms above, be sure to see a doctor right away. UTIs, kidney infections, and kidney stones can usually be treated fairly easily, but it’s important to seek medical attention before any complications develop.