Pyelonephritis is a severe type of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Most UTIs involve only the bladder and the urethra. Pyelonephritis is a condition when a UTI advances to the upper urinary system and affects the kidneys and the ureters.
UTI is common, especially in women. It is estimated that half of all women will have a UTI at least once in their lifetime. As compared to men, women have shorter urethras which makes them more vulnerable to UTI. Symptoms usually start with pain during urination, frequent urination and later develop into back/flank pain, fever, nausea, vomiting etc. signaling a possible pyelonephritis. In some people noticeable changes can be seen in the urine such as bloody/cloudy urine or foul-smelling urine.
During pyelonephritis, bacteria enters the body from the environment or skin around the urethra. It travels up the urethra and reach the bladder. They can then travel upwards from the bladder through the ureters to the kidneys. Pyelonephritis bacterial infection of the kidneys can spread to the blood and circulate throughout the body causing severe illness called sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening infection of the entire body and, if not treated promptly, can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
People with a reduced flow of urine are more at risk of pyelonephritis. When there is an abnormality in the flow of urine, it facilitates the movement of bacteria towards the kidneys. These problems are mostly seen in people with underlying conditions such as renal stones, pelvic/ abdominal tumors and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in men.
People with diabetes are more susceptible to pyelonephritis. A common UTI can turn very quickly into a dangerous pyelonephritis. High amounts of sugar in the blood can weaken the body’s immune system and hinder the body’s resistance against infections. It is important that people with diabetes continuously monitor their sugar levels and do routine health checks so as to prevent any complications related to diabetes and the body’s defense mechanism.
Diagnosis of pyelonephritis can often be made by a physician, with the help of a urine test/culture and a blood test. A computed tomography (CT scan) and/or an ultrasound can help diagnose any underlying conditions such as stones, abscesses or blockages.
For people with diabetes, it is important that they monitor their blood sugar level closely as infections can affect blood sugar control and vice versa, and quickly lead to serious complications.