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Kidney Infections

A kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis, is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). In most cases, UTIs are not serious and easily treated with antibiotics. However, frequent kidney infections can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. In most cases, a kidney infection is caused by bacteria that have moved into the kidneys. Your child may have had a bladder infection that wasn\’t caught fast enough and moved into the kidneys.

Symptoms of a kidney infection may include high fever, diarrhea, and strong-smelling or pinkish urine. If your child is toilet trained, nighttime bed-wetting may start or more frequent urination during the day. Your child may complain about trying to pee and not being able to. Listen for complaints of back or abdominal pain. Other symptoms can include fussiness, fatigue, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Sometimes the only symptom is a fever.

It is important to see your doctor right away if you think your child might have a kidney infection. Your doctor will examine your child to see if there is tenderness in the back or tummy. To diagnose a kidney infection, your doctor will need a urine sample to send for culture. This will diagnose the presence of an infection, but a urine test can’t help your doctor distinguish between a kidney infection and bladder infection. Depending on the age of your child and level of sickness, your doctor may also order blood tests to look for signs of infection. Abnormal blood tests point to an infection that has spread to the kidneys rather than a simple bladder infection.

Once an infection is diagnosed, the usual treatment is to prescribe antibiotics. It’s important to follow the prescribing instructions with the medication and give the whole course of antibiotics, even if your child perks up after a few days. Stopping antibiotics too soon can cause the infection to come back even stronger.

After the infection is cleared up, your doctor will run other tests to make sure there are no abnormalities in the urinary tract. This may include a kidney and bladder ultrasound to check for damage or abnormalities. Other possible tests include a VCUG (vesicourethrogram) to look at the anatomy of the kidneys, or a DMSA renal scan to look for scarring. The type of tests done will depend on your child and the type of infection.

Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist if your child is having frequent infections. If there are abnormalities, your child may simply outgrow them. In some cases, however, they may need to be corrected surgically.


  • National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
  • Urinary Tract Infections in Children.
    American Academy of Family Physicians
  • Urinary Tract Infections in Children: Why They Occur and How To Prevent Them.
    Mayo Clinic
  • Kidney Infections.
    The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal
  • DMSA Renal Scans and the Top-Down Approach to Urinary Tract Infections.

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