The Real Difference Between A Kidney Infection And A UTI

If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know the misery of it. And if a UTI travels to the kidneys, it becomes an even greater cause for concern.

UTIs are incredibly common around the world, affecting over 150 million people annually (via Nature Reviews: Microbiology). The illness was responsible for 10.5 million doctors office visits in 2007, as well as two to three million emergency room visits. UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract, usually from the anus (via Healthline). Since women's urinary tracts are shorter than men's and closer to the anus, women are more likely to contract a UTI. Symptoms of UTI can include pain or burning when urinating, feeling the need to urinate often, urine that is cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling, and abdominal tenderness.

The urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, and kidneys, which means that a kidney infection is a type of UTI (via Healthline). However, there are big differences between the two conditions.

When to worry about an infection

Kidney infections are rare, but they can be dangerous. Fortunately, it's possible to tell the difference between a simple UTI and a kidney infection.

If a UTI goes untreated, the infection can spread to the kidneys (via National Association for Continence). Kidney infections include all of the symptoms listed above, but are also usually accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and lower back or side pain. If a kidney infection is caught early enough, it can easily be treated with antibiotics. However, if it goes untreated, it can lead to kidney damage, chronic kidney disease, or even a fatal bloodstream infection, making it much more serious than a UTI. You're more likely to get a kidney infection if you are female, are immunocompromised, use a urinary catheter, or have a urinary tract blockage, according to the Mayo Clinic

Luckily, there are easy ways to prevent both UTIs and kidney infections. You can reduce your risk of UTIs by staying well-hydrated, urinating as soon as you feel the urge, going to the bathroom after intercourse, taking care when wiping, and avoiding the use of feminine care products near your genitals. And if you experience any symptoms of a kidney infection, you should contact a medical professional right away.