I feel miserable - do I have a kidney infection?

Understand the symptoms of kidney infections and how kidney infections are treated


What are the signs of a kidney infection?

If you are feeling sharp pains in the two sides of your mid to lower back (or flanks), where the kidneys are located, and you have at least one additional symptom shown on the list below, it’s quite likely that you have an acute kidney infection (acute pyelonephritis).  Pyrlonephritis requires urgent medical attention.  See a doctor right away, because if kidney infections are left untreated, they can put your life in danger.

The most common symptoms of a kidney infection are, in order of medical significance:   

  • Severe pain in the lower back
  • High fever (>100F)
  • Whole body shaking and chills
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • General exhaustion 

If you recently had or still have a bladder infection (cystitis) it’s very likely that your current agony indeed is a kidney infection. There are about 150 million cases of cystitis globally every year and in almost all cases the bacterial infection doesn’t go beyond the bladder or travel into the kidneys.  However, for some 100,000 women in the U.S. every year, such bladder infections develop into kidney infections that require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous antibiotics. That’s about 2 in every 1,000 women. So, if you’ve had or have a bladder infection, you definitely should definitely go see a doctor.  Symptoms of cystitis include burning pain while urinating, an increased urge to urinate, cloudy urine color, strong urine odor, and pain in the bladder area.

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What will happen next?

Whether you go to the ER or your normal doctor, the first measures will be to check your temperature and test your urine for evidence of infection.  Additinl testing can also help to determine which bacteria has caused the infection, which then helps determining the most suitable antibiotic for treatment. 

Depending on the severity of your kidney infection, you may be hospitalized for one or two days.  Doctors may give you additional drugs to reduce fever and control nausea, and IV fluids to make sure you stay hydrated. 

Don’t worry. Kidney infections, if treated right away and by professional medical providers, can resolve relatively fast, especially in people younger than 60.  Above that age, fatal outcomes are more likely though.  The most common bacteria found in infected urine is E. Coli, and to put things into perspective; in all of 2018, there were only 30 recorded deaths attributed to E. coli pyelonephritis.


Kidney infections are not to be confused with simple urinary tract infections (UTI)

Bladder infections and kidney infections are both so-called UTIs. That’s because the two organs, together with the urethra, make up the urinary tract. Over 90% of UTIs registered in the world every year are “simple UTIs”, which typically is an acute bladder infection but nothing more serious than that. Kidney infections in contrast belong into the “complicated UTI” category, which also includes cystitis in pregnant women, diabetic women and women with weak immune systems. 

So, if a doctor tells you that you have a UTI, don’t panic.  Just get treatment and, most likely, the infection will remain in the bladder, remaining uncomplicated.


  1. Storme, Oscar, et al. “Risk Factors and Predisposing Conditions for Urinary Tract Infection.” Therapeutic Advances in Urology, vol. 11, Jan. 2019, p. 175628721881438,, 10.1177/1756287218814382. Accessed 30 Jan. 2020.
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Definition & Facts of Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis) | NIDDK.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 16 Sept. 2019, Accessed 30 Jan. 2020.

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