Kidney Infection Vs. UTI: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

UTIs are one thing that can collectively make everyone who has ever had one shudder. They are not pleasant to endure, and if left untreated, they can evolve into kidney infections, which are even more severe.

Both of these infections are caused by bacteria entering the urethra and traveling upwards to the bladder and then the kidneys. Despite how unpleasant these conditions are, they are easily treated with antibiotics. Additionally, receiving treatment as soon as symptoms appear is important to ensure that a UTI does not progress into a kidney infection.

Some people may find that they are more susceptible to UTIs, and taking precautions such as drinking water, urinating after sex, and avoiding baths can help limit the number of UTIs they receive.

Table of Contents

What Are UTIs and Kidney Infections?

When bacteria enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract, they cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). While these infections can impact many parts of the urinary tract, the most common area to be infected is the bladder, a condition called cystitis.

A kidney infection is another type of UTI infecting the kidneys, and while it is less common than a bladder infection, it is more serious.

What Are the Differences Between UTIs and Kidney Infections?

UTIs typically refer to bladder infections, and if the bacteria continue to spread up the urinary tract, they can infect the kidneys. Based on this, the difference between a UTI and a kidney infection is the body organ affected.

Yet another difference between these two infections is their severity, with kidney infections being a much more serious condition.

Kidney Infection vs UTI Symptoms

The symptoms of a UTI affecting the bladder include:

  • frequent urination
  • pain or burning while urinating
  • bloody urine
  • feeling like you need to urinate when you don’t
  • pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen or groin

The symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea or vomiting
  • lower back pain or pain in the side of the back

Causes of UTIs and Kidney Infections

UTIs are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra, and there are some risk factors that increase the chances of this happening:

  • sexual activity
  • a previous UTI
  • pregnancy
  • structural problems in the urinary tract
  • changes in the bacteria inside the vagina
  • age (e.g., older adults, young children)
  • poor hygiene

UTIs often start as bladder infections but can then spread to the kidneys, causing a more serious infection.

UTIs are especially common during pregnancy because the growing fetus puts pressure on the urinary tract and bladder, which can trap bacteria. Additionally, the urethra expands during pregnancy, which allows urine to stay still for longer, promoting bacteria growth. Because of the higher likelihood of a UTI, pregnant women often undergo frequent UTI tests. 

How Do I Know If I Have a UTI or a Kidney Infection? 

There are over-the-counter test strips available that can check for a UTI, and if the test strip indicates an infection, it is important to contact a doctor for an official diagnosis and to begin treatment.

To diagnose a UTI or kidney infection, the doctor will typically perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms. To test for a UTI, they will then perform a urine test to check for bacteria, pus, or blood in the urine. The same protocol is followed when a kidney infection is suspected.

Treatment for Kidney Infections and UTIs

The treatment for a UTI or kidney infection is similar, with an antibiotic typically prescribed to kill the bacteria causing the infection. Once on an antibiotic, symptoms typically clear up within 1-2 days.

It is crucial to complete the entire course of antibiotics, as this ensures the infection is fully treated. Even if symptoms have gone away, stopping the antibiotics early can cause complications later.

In cases of severe kidney infections, hospital treatment may be needed, and this can include intravenous antibiotics and fluids.

Pregnant women who contract a UTI can also be treated with antibiotics, and treating UTIs in pregnant women is especially important because an infection increases the risk of premature labor and can lead to a kidney infection. 

If someone suffers from chronic kidney infections because of the shape of their urinary tract, a doctor may suggest surgery to correct it.

How to Prevent Kidney Infections and UTIs?

There are some people who are more likely to develop a kidney infection with a UTI, and that includes people who:

  • are women
  • have had a UTI within the past 12 months
  • have a bladder infection
  • are pregnant
  • have vesicoureteral reflux (VUR)
  • have diabetes
  • have difficulty emptying your bladder completely
  • have nerve damage or a spinal cord injury around the bladder

The following actions can help to prevent UTIs and kidney infections.

Stay Well Hydrated

When you drink plenty of water, your body is able to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra before they can infect the bladder or kidneys.

Urinate After Sexual Activity

Sexual activity provides a way to introduce bacteria into the urethra, so urinating afterward helps to flush out the bacteria and keep you protected.

Take Showers

While baths appeal to many because they are more relaxing than showers, they also allow for bacteria to more easily enter the urethra, which can cause a UTI. When it comes to daily bathing, opt for a shower to protect your urinary tract.

Avoid Sprays, Powders, or Douching in the Genitals

While it seems as though bacteria should not be in the vagina, the truth is that the vagina is home to many good bacteria that help to protect it from infection. However, these bacteria require a specific pH level in order to thrive. 

Sprays, powders, or douches intended for the vagina can alter the vagina’s pH level and disrupt the bacteria that naturally reside in the vagina. When you disrupt this bacteria, you increase your chances of a UTI because you have lost an element of protection.

When to See a Doctor?

It is recommended to see a doctor if you have any symptoms of a UTI, as this allows you to take antibiotics.

Kidney infections can cause high blood pressure, permanent kidney scars (which can lead to chronic kidney disease), and kidney failure, which is why treatment is important. Complications from a kidney infection become very rare if antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection.

Since an untreated UTI can lead to a kidney infection, it is crucial to receive antibiotics as soon as symptoms become present to prevent this progression and ensure that a more severe infection does not occur.

Get Help From an Online Doctor!

If you think you have a UTI or kidney infection, an online doctor can help you review your symptoms. With DrHouse, you can meet with a doctor in just 15 minutes, and all doctors are board-certified to write prescriptions for antibiotics to clear up your infection and relieve your symptoms.

Key Takeaways

UTIs and kidney infections are two infections affecting the urinary tract. A UTI typically refers to an infection of the bladder, whereas a kidney infection is a type of UTI impacting the kidneys. Both infections are due to bacteria and usually occur when bacteria enter the urethra from the skin or rectum.

There are OTC test strips to detect a UTI, but a doctor can also diagnose one using a urine test. Since a UTI can progress to a kidney infection, which is a much more severe infection, it is crucial to treat all UTIs as soon as symptoms become present. Antibiotics are typically used to treat both infections, and it is important to follow the complete course of antibiotics to ensure the infection is fully treated.

There are many ways to prevent UTIs and kidney infections, such as staying hydrated, peeing after sex, and avoiding products that change vaginal pH levels. If you suspect that you have a UTI or kidney infection, an online doctor is a great resource to discuss your symptoms and receive an antibiotic prescription.


Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.



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