During pregnancy, expectant mothers undergo various physiological changes in their body. These changes, yet normal, can give rise to different illnesses and disorders. One of the diseases pregnant women are vulnerable to is a kidney infection or pyelonephritis.
Women, in general, are at a higher risk of developing kidney infection than men.
This is because of women’s anatomy in that their urethra is shorter and nearer their anus and genitals, making it easy for bacteria to enter and spread in the urinary tract. The susceptibility of women to kidney infection is doubled during pregnancy due to the physical and hormonal changes that happen. According to researchers, the probability that pregnant women may develop kidney infection is 1% to 2%.
If not treated promptly and properly, kidney infection in pregnant women can result in serious complications that can adversely affect them and their unborn babies.
Kidney infection in pregnant women can be treated using antibiotics that are formulated safe for them. There is also a myriad of home remedies that they can take to alleviate the infection, but to ensure safety should be with their doctor’s approval.
2Signs and Symptoms
Pregnant women should always be wary of the signs and symptoms of kidney infection so that it can be promptly diagnosed and treated. Kidney infection in pregnant women may display similar symptoms as in non-pregnant women. But how the symptoms manifest in pregnant women can be indicative of the type of kidney infection they have. There are symptoms that can occur suddenly or over hours, while others may gradually manifest.
Acute pyelonephritis signs and symptoms
Symptoms that occur suddenly may be signs of acute pyelonephritis. Acute pyelonephritis can be very dangerous for expectant mothers because it can result in renal scarring.
Symptoms of acute pyelonephritis include a sudden headache, loss of appetite, fever, and abdominal pains (for pregnant women on their 16th week). Pregnant women with acute pyelonephritis may also experience vomiting, paling, and high-pulse rate (about 120 beats per minute). They may also pee highly concentrated urine that contains pus and other wastes. Their infected kidney may also feel tender.
Sub-acute pyelonephritis signs and symptoms
Symptoms the gradually occur can be an indicator of sub-acute pyelonephritis.
Pregnant women with sub-acute pyelonephritis may experience progressive lower back and abdominal pains, body temperature fluctuations, and vomiting. Because its symptoms are progressive, sub-acute pyelonephritis can be hard to notice and mistaken for other diseases. For one, progressive abdominal pains in pregnant women can also be indicative of appendicitis, ovarian cyst, and hemorrhage.
Pregnancy is a very sensitive medical condition. If any of these signs and symptoms manifest, pregnant women should immediately see their doctor for apt diagnosis and treatment. By so doing, the infection can be immediately treated and halted, preventing it to worsen and affect the unborn baby.
3Causes and Risk Factors
Expectant mothers can avoid acquiring kidney infection if they know its common causes. Pregnancy itself, however, is a primary reason pregnant women are prone to a kidney infection.
Pregnant women undergo different physiological changes such as physical and hormonal changes, which can have a profound impact on organ structure and functions.
Women’s uterus enlarges during pregnancy. This physical change can slow down or obstruct the passing of urine out of the urinary tract. As a result, urine gets trapped in the kidney and turn septic because of clustering of bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E.coli), Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Enterococcus, Klebsiella pneumonia, Proteus, and Pseudomonas. If left untreated, the bacteria can totally infect and damage the kidney.
The infection might also spread to the bloodstream, which can lead to blood poisoning.
Pregnant women are also susceptible to drastic hormonal changes. Changes in the levels of hormones such as progesterone, prostaglandin, and estrogen can give rise to imbalances and disorders. For one, pregnant women may develop Hydronephrosis, a disorder where each or both kidneys become dilated due to urine flow obstruction. Trapped urine can serve as the breeding ground of the infection-causing bacteria.
Other physiological changes
Other changes like blood volume expansion and increased level of glucose can also happen during pregnancy, affecting the normal course of the urinary tract, and eventually cause kidney infections. Further, the component of pregnant women’s urine can be less acidic, making it less effective in combating harmful bacteria.
Nonpregnancy related causes
Aside from physiological changes, pregnant women can acquire infection through poor hygiene, sexual intercourse, and insertion of foreign materials like catheters into their genitals. Because their urethra is shorter and nearer their genitals and anus, microbes can easily infiltrate the lower urinary tract. Untreated, the infection can eventually spread to the upper urinary tract. The probability of getting kidney infection among pregnant women with existing illness can also be higher, particularly if the illness weakens their immune system.
The following factors can put pregnant women at higher risks for kidney infection:
- Being overweight or obese
- Multiple pregnancies
- Recurrent UTI
To prevent acquiring kidney infection while pregnant, expectant mothers should practice the following:
Increase fluid intake. Water and other fluids can help flush out harmful bacteria in the body. Taking more amount of fluids than usual can help pregnant women reduce their risk of infection.
Keep a proper hygiene. Always keep the genitals clean and wipe it properly to avoid bacteria from the anus to reach the urethra
Reduce caffeine intake. Diuretic drinks such as those rich in caffeine can dehydrate the body and make the infection worse.
Empty the bladder immediately. This can help flush infection-causing bacteria out of the body and keep it from clustering in the kidneys.
Avoid products and tools that can irritate the feminine area. Skin irritation, particularly in the feminine area, can contribute to the buildup of bacteria that can infiltrate and infect the urinary tract.
Kidney infection can be detrimental both to pregnant women and their baby. This is why kidney infection should be aptly diagnosed and treated. Failure to do so can lead to the following complications:
Preterm delivery and low birth weight. The infection in the kidney can spread to the lower reproductive tract and eventually to the uterus, causing inflammations that can trigger preterm labor and delivery. Preterm babies generally have low birth weight.
Miscarriage. Infections near the baby can cause the womb or cervix to prematurely open.
Blood poisoning. If the infection spread to the bloodstream, it can cause blood poisoning or sepsis.
Kidney scarring. Untreated kidney infection can result in permanent kidney failure.
To comprehensively diagnose kidney infection in pregnant women, the doctor inquires about the patient’s medical history and carry out a physical exam to check the patient’s vital signs, kidney tenderness, and other pains and inflammations. Then various laboratory exams may be required to comprehensively diagnose the infection.
- Urinalysis and urine culture. The urine sample from the patient will be examined to determine if there is a significant amount of pus and other bacteria in the urine, identify the type of bacteria causing the infection and observe bacterial growth.
- Ultrasound or CT. These lab tests can help visually evaluate the condition of the affected kidneys. Ultrasound also helps determine if there is any blockage in the urinary tract.
- Blood test. This test can help check the severity of the infection.
Kidney infection in pregnant women is curable. The infection can be treated by taking antibiotics and analgesics that are safe for pregnant women. The medication can be complemented with doctor-approved natural home remedies.
Antibiotics safe for pregnant women
Generally, pregnant women are prohibited to take medications like antibiotics without doctor’s prescription because doing so can put the baby at risk. Fortunately, however, there are antibiotics and analgesics that are formulated safe for pregnant women and their baby.
Here are some of the medications pregnant women can take to alleviate kidney infection:
Cefalexin. Cefalexin is a cephalosporin antibiotic that can help prevent the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Ampicillin. Ampicillin is also a penicillin that can cure infections caused by susceptible aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.
Nitrofurantoin. Nitrofurantoin is an antibiotic specifically formulated to cure urinary tract infections.
Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an analgesic that can help relieve pains due to the infection.
Warning: Any use of a medicine must be with an advice of a doctor.
9Home remedies safe for pregnant women
The American Pregnancy Association lists a number of home remedies for a kidney infection that is safe for pregnant women. But before taking the below home remedies, it is still recommended that pregnant women consult with their OB-GYNE first to ensure safety.
Drink cranberry juice. 100% pure cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections.
Increase fluid intake. By so doing, harmful bacteria can be flushed out of the body.
Avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeinated drinks such as sodas, coffee, and alcohols may irritate the bladder.
Proper hygiene. Always practice “wipe from front to back” as it can prevent infection-causing microbes from reaching the urethra.
Pee after sex. This can help flush out bacteria that might have infiltrated the urinary tract.
Be wary of feminine products. Some products may cause urinary tract infections.
In some cases, pregnant women suffering from kidney infection are advised to take bed rest in the hospital.
Kidney infection in pregnant women is curable. However, kidney infection should be promptly diagnosed and treated to avoid complications that can lead to preterm delivery, miscarriage, blood poisoning, low birth weight, and kidney scarring. Kidney infection in pregnant women can be treated with antibiotics complemented with natural remedies. However, it is a must that pregnant women consult with their doctor first before taking any medication.