Women are at high risk for developing kidney infection or pyelonephritis. Experts say that in every 10,000 women, there are about 15 to 17 women with kidney infections.
The most susceptible are female children 2 years old and below, pregnant women, and elderly or premenopausal women.
Women are six times more prone to kidney infections than men because of their anatomy. Their urethra is shorter and is relatively nearer their anus and genitals than that of men. Bacteria from their anus and vagina can easily get into their urethra. The bacteria that reached the urethra can then infect the bladder and spread to the kidneys.
If not promptly treated, a kidney infection can lead to worse complications such as blood poisoning or sepsis. Women should be wary of the signs and symptoms of kidney infections to prevent this.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of kidney infection in women can greatly vary, depending on the patient’s medical history, age, and lifestyle.
The following are the common signs and symptoms of kidney infections in women:
- Changes in urine and urine habit
Women should constantly check the changes in their urine and urine habit because it can be indicative of kidney infection. For example, cloudy urine (cloudy red or cloudy brown) can be due to the presence of a microscopic but significant amount of blood and pus in the urine.
Blood in urine (gross hematuria) can also be macroscopic or can be seen by naked eyes. Bloody urine occurs when bacteria from the bloodstream or ureters get into the kidneys. Usually accompanied by fever, bloody urine requires immediate medical attention. The increased amount of pus in urine or pyuria, on the other hand, can also indicate that kidneys have an infection due to the presence of bacteria.
Unpleasant smell in the urine is an indicator of pyuria. Foul-smelling urine can be due to the presence of bacteria that cause an unpleasant odor.
Aside from changes in the urine, women’s urine habit can also change due to a kidney infection. Women may suffer from frequent urination and constant urge to pee even if they just peed. They may also feel that their bladder is full but they can barely urinate. This condition can result in various discomforts and pains.
- Extreme pains, cramps, and other malaise
Changes in urine and urine habit accompanied by pains, cramps, and other malaise can be a definite sign of kidney infection. Women with kidney infection may experience dysuria (painful urination). They may also feel extreme pains and cramps in the lower abdomen, groin, sides, and back. Pain can also occur when the bladder fills. The location of the pain can indicate which of the kidneys is infected. Further, women may lose appetite and feel irritable and lethargic. Pains can also be accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting.
- Fever, chills, and uncontrollable shivering
Although fever is a common symptom of various illnesses, it is a significant sign of an infection if it exceeds 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Experts say that fever is a normal defense of the body against infection. A woman’s body temperature can go above the normal range when their kidneys are infected. Fever may be accompanied by chills and uncontrollable shivering. However, not all women with kidney infection may get a fever.
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Symptoms in female children:
Children with kidney infections may experience vomiting, bedwetting, irritability, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and lack of energy. In a more severe condition, children with infected kidneys do not grow at the normal and expected rate. Some may get jaundice or yellowing of the whites of the eyes and of the skin.
- Symptoms in elderly and postmenstrual women:
Elderly women with infected kidneys may experience confusion, dehydration, low blood pressure, palpitations, lethargy, and in worse cases, delirium.
Generally, kidney infections in women are caused by bacteria that enter their urinary tract. These bacteria include Escherichia coli (E.coli), Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Enterococcus, Klebsiella, Proteus, and Pseudomonas. Bacteria reach women’s urinary tract and eventually the bladders and the kidneys due to poor hygiene; unprotected sexual intercourse; insertion of foreign materials such as catheter; and diseases such as skin infections, kidney stones, congenital urinary tract abnormality, and bladder infection. Diseases that weaken the immune system such as diabetes and cancers can also trigger kidney infections.
According to research, the factors associated with kidney infections in women are diabetes, incontinence, sexual intercourse frequency, recent urinary tract infection (UTI), recent use of spermicide, having a new sexual partner in the prior year, and history of UTI in the patient’s mother. Age can also be a risk factor in that young females, children under 2 years old, and elderly women are at a higher risk for kidney infections. Pregnant women are also more susceptible to kidney infections.
Kidney infections in women can lead to more serious complications including emphysematous pyelonephritis (EPN), kidney abscesses, and sepsis (blood poisoning).
Kidney infections in women are usually diagnosed through the following:
- Checking of medical history, vital signs, signs of dehydration, and mid and lower back inflammation
- Physical exams including pelvic exam for young females
- Laboratory and other tests including urinalysis, urine culture, ultrasound or CT, voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG), and dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) scintigraphy
Depending on the patient’s general state of health and the severity of the symptoms, kidney infections in women may be treated either in the hospital or at home. Oral and/or intravenous antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin are usually administered with respect to the severity of the infection and the patient’s general health status. Doctors may also prescribe analgesics to alleviate the pains. Home remedies such as increasing fluid intake can complement the medications.
Kidney infections in women can be cured and prevented. However, if not promptly treated, the infection can result in more severe complications. Women should see to it that once they observe kidney infection symptoms, they must consult their doctors immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.