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How Do I Know If I Have A UTI Or A Kidney Infection?

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

  • Pelvic pain

  • Blood in the urine

How long does a UTI last?


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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.

Learn more about Urinary Tract Infections here.

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

  • Feeling nauseous

  • Vomiting

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.


13 Responses

  1. RE: your last bullet point: I have had two large kidney stones removed surgically within only a couple of years. They were OXALATE stones, which are not that uncommon, so I’ve been warned against high oxalate foods! To rid the body of oxalates, be sure you are taking in a good amount of calcium, as oxalates will bond to calcium and exit the body, rather than hang around and form/grow the stones I suffered from. Drink a lot of water, and put some lemon juice in it at least once a day.

  2. I have sharp pain which resembles UTI. I drank 2 litres of parsley and another 3 litres of non caffeinated liquids throughout the day and it felt like it went away. No more sharp sensation when urinating. Today m fever came back and some slight on and off pain across my lower back. No choice but antibiotics???
    Thank you

  3. 2weeks ago and broke my ankle. Shortly after I started peeing non stop. Wearing diapers and need to change them every fifteen minutes. My doctor prescriptioned cipro took it for a week no change. For the past three days I’m on an overactive bladder medication is not helping either. I don’t know what else to do. I’m very anxious about this please can you help me

  4. You may be in the wrong antibiotic. Please call your Dr. or go to the ED immediately.

  5. I think I have a kidney infection seeming on my right side on both the front and back between my hips and ribs are excruciating, I can barely move, and there’s is absolutely zero comfort for the past couple days, it constantly hurts so bad I can’t even fall asleep all the way. I’ve had a fever since yesterday morning and throwing up nonstop

  6. I recently suffered from a kidney stone. The suggestion in the article to "Cut back on sodium, and eat more oxalate-rich foods (things like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes)" is in direct contrast to my physician’s advice to avoid oxalate-rich foods, which can contribute to formation of calcium oxalate stones.

  7. I will wake up daily with flank pain, mainly on the right side. It takes me a minute to be able to catch my breath. My urine is constantly smelly and dark. My three-year-old even makes comments on how stinky mommies Pee is. ER doctors just keep treating me for UTIs. I have been admitted three times this year with acute kidney infections to the point I’ve had to call an ambulance. In the past three years I’ve been treated for approximately 12 UTIs. They say that I have acute UTIs. I’ve been told by the ER doctors to follow up with a kidney specialist but because of my crappy insurance, Medicaid, I have to go through a primary care and my primary care said not to worry that this happens sometimes. But I know my body, and I feel there’s something more. Thoughts?

  8. @angela try eating raw garlic 3 times a day. The problem with taking so many antibiotics is that your body becomes resistant to it and it no longer works to clear the infection. Look up garlic for UTI’s and also take probiotics.

  9. Angela.. Go to the ER and insist on seeing a Urologist or Nephrologist (kidney doctor)! Tell them you will not leave without it. My Mom kept getting passed off like this and the doctors kept throwing antibiotics at her. She collapsed on the streets of Europe because one of her kidneys completely died and shriveled up causing the other to blow up to 3x the size. She almost died. Antibiotics are sometimes VERY necessary and with all due respect to Vanessa, it sounds like you are past garlic as a remedy. Maybe once they get to the bottom of it and fix it that may be a good add on but for now ~ please INSIST the treat you. Your primary care doctor sounds like they need to retire. Get yourself another primary that will listen to you. It’s your life so choose wisely. Best of luck to you..

  10. It’s been 6 months since my last UTI I’m being treated right now with ciprofloxin Two days after starting the ciprofloxin my back started to hurt and has worked down onto my hip. I left a urine specimen for them to check. Is this possible to have anything to do with the UTI

  11. Can you have a kidney infection without UTI or fever? And if yes. What else can cause kidney infection? Can dehydration cause infection? Pain started in my abdomen and then moved up my sides and settled in my lower back. Hydrated for three days and have literally put on eight pounds which makes me think I was dehydrated

  12. I have had problems since I was 10. 65 now. Got better for a long time after I had a hysterectomy at 37 from severe endometriosis. Had 2 laparoscopys to get rid of enough to have another child. Lucky for me I had an excellent gyno surgeon who trained in Europe. He told me I most likely had it growing in my bladder and that’s why it was so painful and

  13. I say natural remedies are the best route, trusting doctors these days is a risk I seen quite a few ppl saying how the doctors keep trying to treat it as it’s a simple UTI and clearly it’s not, and honestly I’ve been through the same thing. Antibiotics are not always the best solution as after a while they don’t work as well. And I say natural remedies are better because they will do what they are supposed to do and last long term versus prescription drugs which will only serve useful for a short period of time and will harm us in other ways

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