14th September, 20205 min read

How do you treat a kidney infection?

Medical reviewer:
Healthily's medical team
Healthily's medical team
Alex Bussey
Alex Bussey
Last reviewed: 15/09/2020
Medically reviewed

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Your kidneys are a pair of fist-sized organs that are responsible for filtering waste from your blood.

Occasionally, your kidneys can get infected — making you feel feverish and causing pain in your tummy, lower back or genitals.

This normally happens when bacteria like E. coli get into your bladder and travel up to the kidneys.

Kidney infections (pyelonephritis) can also develop when bacteria from other parts of your body travel to the kidneys via your bloodstream, or a blockage traps urine in your ureters — the tubes that carry urine from your kidney to your bladder. This allows bacteria to grow close to the kidney.

If you think you have a kidney infection it’s important to get help from a doctor as soon as you can. An untreated infection can cause permanent damage to your kidneys.

How are kidney infections treated?

Kidney infections are usually treated with a course of antibiotics.

If you're very unwell, you may need to go to hospital so that doctors can attach a drip for the antibiotics to be delivered straight into your bloodstream.

Kidney infections can cause long-term damage to your kidneys, so it’s important to go straight to a doctor if you experience any symptoms.

These include:

  • shivering
  • feeling very weak or tired
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling sick or nauseous
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • pain and discomfort in your side, your lower back or your genital area
  • a high temperature (it may reach 39.5C)

Your doctor is likely to ask for a urine sample to test whether you have a kidney infection, and what type of bacteria is causing it.

Your doctor may also arrange a CT scan or ultrasound to help diagnose your condition.

Doctor explaining kidney problems to a patient

Once your doctor is sure that you have a kidney infection, they will prescribe a course of antibiotics. This may take several days to clear your infection, but most people start to feel better quite soon after taking them.

If you do start to feel better, it’s important to take the full course because stopping early could allow your infection to come back — or help some of the bacteria to develop resistance to your antibiotics.

If your antibiotics don’t improve your symptoms within 24 hours, you should see a doctor straight away. They may refer you to a hospital so that you can be treated by a specialist.

Is there anything I can do to help treat a kidney infection at home?

A kidney infection should always be treated with a course of antibiotics, but drinking plenty of water may help to speed up your recovery. This is because drinking lots of water can help to flush out the harmful bacteria in your kidneys.

Water being poured from a jug

What if I’m pregnant?

If you have a kidney infection and you’re pregnant, you'll probably need to be treated in a hospital. You may need different antibiotics and doctors may want to attach a drip so that your medication can be delivered straight into your bloodstream.

Your doctors may also need to take regular blood tests and urine samples to monitor your progress.

Will I need surgery to treat my kidney infection?

You probably won’t need surgery unless your doctor thinks that your kidney infection was caused by a blockage like a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate.

If your doctor does think that your kidney infection was caused by 1 of these things, they may recommend an operation to remove the blockage and prevent future infections.

Can I prevent a kidney infection?

You can’t always stop a kidney infection from developing, but you may be able to reduce your risk by drinking lots of water. This helps to flush bacteria out of your ureters and keeps your kidneys healthy.

You can also reduce your risk of developing a kidney infection by peeing as soon as you’ve finished having sex and peeing as soon as you feel the urge to go to the toilet. This helps to stop bacteria from building up in your urinary tract and reduces the chances of an infection developing.

Woman sitting on the toilet with diarrhoea

Women should also wipe from front to back when using the toilet, to reduce chances of bacteria getting into the urethra.

Key points

  • most kidney infections are caused by bacteria that live in the small intestine
  • you should always see a doctor if you think that you might have a kidney infection, because they can cause long-term complications
  • kidney infections are normally treated in hospital with a course of antibiotics
  • If you’re infection is mild, you may be prescribed antibiotics to take at home
  • you may be able to reduce your risk of developing a kidney infection by drinking plenty of water and peeing immediately after you have sex
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