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Understanding and Preventing Kidney Infections

Germs cause kidney infections

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Infections happen when germs get inside your body. There are many different types of infections that affect different parts of your body, including ear infections, lung infections, and stomach infections. One type of infection is a kidney infection. Kidney infections can be very serious. They can lead to being hospitalized and, if not treated, kidney failure or infections in other parts of the body.

Why are kidneys important?

Kidneys clean your blood. As they are cleaning your blood, your kidneys produce urine. Urine is made up of extra water and other waste that your body doesn’t need. The urine that your kidneys make goes to your bladder and then out of your body.

What are kidney infections?

Kidney infections are caused by germs that come from outside or inside of your body. Often, germs that get into your urinary tract (the tubes where urine flows out of your body) can move into your kidneys and lead to a kidney infection.

If not treated, kidney infections can permanently damage the kidneys so that they cannot do their job correctly. Germs can also spread from your kidneys into your blood and cause infections in other parts of your body. Kidney infections can also lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.

For all of these reasons, it is important for you to recognize the signs of kidney infections among individuals who you support and take steps to prevent kidney infections!

Are certain people more likely than others to get kidney infections?

Because kidney infections often start out as urinary tract infections, people who get a lot of urinary tract infections are at a higher risk for kidney infections than other people. People at risk for urinary tract infections include:

  • Women
  • Men with an enlarged prostate or kidney stones
  • People with diabetes
  • People who use a catheter (a tube that helps urine leave your body)
  • People who are incontinent (people who can’t control when they go to the bathroom)
  • People with a sexually transmitted disease
  • Anyone with an abnormality in the urinary tract that blocks the flow of urine

Other people who are more likely than others to develop a kidney infection are:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with illnesses or who are on medications that can weaken their body’s immune system (make the body less able to fight off infections). This can include people with HIV or AIDS and people with certain cancers or who are having cancer treatment.

As a direct support professional, you can look out for the symptoms of kidney and urinary tract infections among all of the individuals you support, but pay special attention to those who have any of the risk factors listed above.

How can I tell if someone I support has a kidney infection?

There are many signs of kidney infections that you can look out for among the people you support. A person may have a kidney infection if they:

  • Feel like they need to go to the bathroom more than usual (even if they don’t actually urinate once they get to the toilet)
  • Experience pain during urination
  • Have urine that is red or has a strong odor
  • Feel pain in their back, sides, or the lower part of their stomach
  • Have a fever
  • Feel more tired and irritable than usual
  • Are confused

These are all signs that may point to a kidney infection, but not all people with kidney infections will have all of these symptoms; even if you notice just some of these symptoms don’t be afraid to let the doctor know.

Also, remember that some of the individuals who you support may not be able to tell you with words how they are feeling. By observing the people you support everyday, you may be able to notice changes in their behavior that could indicate kidney or urinary tract infections. For instance, you can notice if the person is going to the bathroom more than usual, what their urine smells and looks like, and if they seem to be experiencing pain while they urinate.

What should I do if I think that someone I support may have a kidney infection?

If you think that someone has a kidney or urinary tract infection, the best thing for you to do is to call the person’s doctor. When you call the doctor, be prepared to tell him or her:

  • What symptoms the person has complained of (for example, if the individual has told you that he or she experiences pain when going to the bathroom)
  • What behavior changes you have noticed (for example, if the individual has been needing to use the bathroom more often than usual or if he or she has been feeling tired)
  • What other symptoms you have noticed (for example, if you have noticed that the person’s urine smells or looks different than usual)
  • How long the symptoms or behavior changes have been happening (for example, a day or two days or a week)
  • If the individual has a fever, how long the fever has lasted and what temperatures you have recorded

By keeping a written record of the individual’s symptoms and behavior changes, you can be prepared to talk to the doctor.

You should also be prepared to let the doctor know about any other illnesses the person may have that could affect his or her kidney functions (such as diabetes) and if the person has a history of having other urinary tract or kidney infections, including a history of kidney stones or enlarged prostate.

What will the doctor do at the appointment and what should I do to prepare?

The doctor may ask the person for a urine sample to send to the lab for testing. He or she may also take a blood sample from the person for testing. In serious cases, the doctor may need to take x-rays to see inside the person’s urinary tract.

As a direct support professional, you can prepare individuals you support for their appointment by letting them know what to expect when they see the doctor.

If the person does have a kidney or urinary tract infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Make sure to let the doctor know about any medications the person is allergic to, as well as what types of medications the person is already taking. By giving the doctor this information you can help to prevent medication errors and dangerous medication interactions.

In more serious cases, the person may need to stay in the hospital or may even need surgery.

How can I help people with kidney or urinary tract infections to feel better?

As a direct support professional, the best thing you can do is to make sure that the individuals you support follow all of their doctor’s instructions.

  • If the doctor prescribed a medication, make sure the individual takes the medicine as directed and that the individual takes all of the medication, even if he or she starts to feel better before it is gone.
  • Help the individual to get plenty of rest.
  • Ask the doctor about using over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, fever reducers, or decongestants.*
  • Placing a heating pad on the individual’s stomach, side, or back may help relieve pain (but, make sure the heating pad does not get too hot)
  • If the individual’s symptoms start getting worse, call the doctor again and let him or her know what you have noticed.

*Before giving the individuals you support any over-the-counter medications, check with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to make sure that the new medications are safe to take with any medications the individual is already taking. For people who live in Community Care Facilities, per Title 22 regulations, over-the-counter medications require a doctor’s prescription.

Is there anything I can do to prevent kidney infections among individuals I support?

Since many kidney infections start out as urinary tract infections, one of the best ways to prevent kidney infections is to prevent urinary tract infections in the first place. You and individuals you support can prevent urinary tract infections by:

  • Drinking plenty of water every day
  • Going to the bathroom immediately after sex
  • Going to the bathroom frequently (whenever you need to)
  • Keeping your genital areas (the areas around your penis or vagina) clean
  • Taking showers instead of baths
  • For women, wiping from front to back after using the toilet

Also, if a person you support develops a urinary tract infection, make sure to encourage the individual to see a doctor and get his or her infection treated. By treating a urinary tract infection, you are helping to prevent kidney infections from developing later.

Are there materials that I can use to teach individuals I support about kidney and urinary tract infections?

The DDS Safety Net ( is a great source of information that you can share with individuals who you support. This month’s DDS Safety Net presentations can help you teach people about urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and taking antibiotics:

Also, be sure to check out the Safety Point Presentation from October:

Where can I go to learn more?

The best way to learn more is by taking to your doctor. You can also check out these resources on the internet:

  • National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
  • Mayo Clinic – Kidney Infection
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ENGLISH-FA_Kidney Infections.pdf 110.81 KB
Last updated on Thu, 06/10/2010 - 15:51