What is the Relationship Between a Bladder and Kidney Infection?

Matt Brady

Bladder and kidney infection are often related, one causing the other in a condition called pyelonephritis. It's possible for bladder and urinary tract infections (UTI) to spread into the kidneys, where they can result in much more dangerous complications. Bladder infections, known as cystitis, often stem from UTIs, which are much more common in women than men. The prevalence of UTIs in women is thought to be a result of women having a shorter urethra than men as well as a urinary tract that's more accessible and vulnerable to bacteria. Bladder infections, though uncomfortable, are very treatable with antibiotics if caught in time.

The human urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder.
The human urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder.

E. coli, a kind of bacteria that normally comes from the colon, is a common cause of bladder and kidney infection. If E. coli finds its way into the urinary tract, it can cause a UTI, which in turn can cause cystitis, and from there, pyelonephritis. There are a number of ways to prevent bacteria from building up in the bladder—not waiting too long to urinate and taking care to clean up after using the bathroom so bacteria-laden fecal matter doesn't come near the urinary tract.

Bladder and kidney infections can typically be treated with antibiotics.
Bladder and kidney infections can typically be treated with antibiotics.

Sexual intercourse also can result in bladder and kidney infection. Sex can make the urethra and bladder more susceptible to bacterial infection. For whatever reason, some women experience such infections more than other women, to the extent that some get them after every sexual episode, whereas others never do. A woman's choice of contraception can increase the odds of bladder and kidney infection; the use of condoms and diaphragms, in particular, can increase one's odds of getting a UTI. Women can help prevent infection by urinating shortly after intercourse and cleaning the genital area.

Sexual intercourse can result in bladder and kidney infection.
Sexual intercourse can result in bladder and kidney infection.

Bladder and kidney infection in men is much more rare and is generally the result of a more serious condition. Uncircumcised males are more at risk for bladder infection, perhaps because the foreskin is more prone to trap bacteria. An infection may also be the result of something interfering with the urinary tract.

A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.

Such infections may also increase with age. It's important for elderly individuals to be particularly vigilant about the risk of bladder and kidney infections. Incontinence is one major sign that an infection may be impairing the bowels, kidneys, and bladder.

Bladder infection is often accompanied by mild to moderate abdominal discomfort. One may also constantly feel the need to urinate without being able to produce much urine upon bathroom trips. Infections may also cause a slight fever. If a bladder infection develops into a kidney infection, symptoms will be much more serious. The symptoms of bladder infection will grow more severe, and pus and blood may appear in the urine.

UTIs and bladder infections typically are easy to treat if caught in time. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics and recommend drinking extra fluids to help flush out the bacteria. Kidney infections may also be treated with antibiotics, but they might also require hospitalization to ensure the kidneys don't sustain permanent injury.

An untreated bladder infection may lead to kidney damage.
An untreated bladder infection may lead to kidney damage.

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