Kidney Infection During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment And Preventive Measures

pregnancy and kidney infection

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Pregnancy is ridden with health issues. But not all problems can be brushed aside because a few like kidney infection need immediate attention.

The changes in the anatomy of the urinary tract slow down the flow of urine during pregnancy. This triggers a bacterial infection in the lower urinary tract, gradually spreading into the bladder and then into one or both the kidneys.

Here, MomJunction will discuss the causes of a kidney infection during pregnancy, what it could lead to and how you can get the problem treated.

What Causes Kidney Infection In Pregnancy?

Kidney infection, also termed as Pyelonephritis, occurs when the infection spreads to the upper urinary tract. It leads to inflammation of the kidney tissues and renal pelvis.

The infection is usually caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.Coli) that travel through the urethra to the bladder and then to the kidneys. The other bacteria that can cause urinary tract infection are Klebsiella pneumoniae or Staphylococcus (1).

The infection occurs due to the changes in the urinary tract, such as kidney enlargement and compression of the ureters and bladder (2).

What Causes Kidney Infection In Pregnancy

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Kidney enlargement: High concentration of progesterone hormone secreted during pregnancy causes dilation of ureters, slowing down the flow of urine, (3) leading to its accumulation in the bladder. It causes the kidneys to enlarge and gives time to the bacteria to multiply and trigger the infection.

[ Read: Infections During Pregnancy ]

Compression of the ureters and bladder: The growing uterus puts pressure on the ureters and the bladder, making it difficult for the urine to flow.

Also, the infections pass more easily into a woman’s body than into a man’s because of the shortness of her urethra, which is close to the anal opening. This leads to easy transfer of bacteria from the rectal matter at the anal opening to the urethra.

What Are The Symptoms Of Kidney Infection?

Kidney infection is classified into acute pyelonephritis and subacute pyelonephritis, with each having varying symptoms.

Acute pyelonephritis shows sudden symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe abdominal pain in women who are more than 16 weeks pregnant
  • Fever with a sudden increase in body temperature
  • Concentrated urine with pus and debris
  • Paling and vomiting
  • Tenderness of the affected kidney

Subacute pyelonephritis

  • The symptoms appear gradually during this condition:
  • Lower back pain
  • Feeling unwell
  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Irregular fluctuations in the body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Symptoms indicating pneumonia and pleurisy

Subacute pyelonephritis could be difficult to detect as the symptoms are slow and you might see them as just another discomfort during pregnancy.

Be it acute or subacute, a kidney infection cannot be ignored given the consequences that you would face.

Complications Of Kidney Infection

If left untreated, kidney infection while pregnant may lead to serious complications such as:

  1. Kidney scarring that can further lead to high blood pressure and kidney failure.
  1. Blood poisoning, also termed as septicaemia. The kidney filters the waste from the blood and resupplies the filtered blood to the body. However, kidney infection allows the bacteria to enter the bloodstream causing blood poisoning (4).
  1. Kidney infection causes the ascent of bacteria into the amniotic sac and fluid. This could rupture the sac and result in preterm delivery (5).
  1. Preterm labor could result in the delivery of a low birth weight baby.
  1. Pyelonephritis with a high fever is a severe case of a kidney infection that can lead to miscarriage.

If you have any symptoms like severe back or side pain, vomitings, and fever, then call the doctor right away, as these common symptoms could be indicating a kidney infection.

[ Read: Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy ]

Diagnosis Of Kidney Infection During Pregnancy

Your physician will ask you a few questions and check your past medical records to know your health history. A typical diagnosis would include:

Physical examination

During this, your doctor may gently press the area around the kidneys to feel the tenderness and understand the extent of pain in that part.

Laboratory tests

  • A urine analysis to detect pus, bacteria, blood, white blood cells, and red blood cells in your urine (6).
  • A clean catch urine culture will help detect the type of bacteria causing the infection.
  • A blood test may be carried out to determine the level of infection.
  • A CT scan of the abdomen is done to check for the enlargement of the kidneys or any blockage in the urinary tract.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is an X-ray of the kidney. In this X-ray process, a dye is injected into the veins. The dye detects any obstructions or abnormalities as it passes through the urinary tract and imparts the images on the X-ray.
  • A biopsy may be suggested to know the extent of infection in the kidneys.
  • An ultrasound is usually suggested to check for any blockage in the urinary tract.

If you are diagnosed with a kidney infection, you will be asked to get admitted to the hospital. The length of your stay will depend on the severity of the infection, and the time it would take for the treatment.

Treatment For Kidney Infection While Pregnant

Initial treatment includes administration of intravenous antibiotics such as ceftriaxone (Rocephin) or cefazolin (Ancef) (7). Your doctor will monitor your temperature, blood pressure, urinating ability, pulse, and heart rate to determine any indications of preterm labor.

If there is no improvement in your condition, then it could mean that the infecting bacteria are resistant to the medicine. In such case, the doctor may prescribe another antibiotic gentamycin (Garamycin) (8).

Post hospitalization, your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotic medicine such as nitrofurantoin (Macrobid) or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Septra, Bactrim) for ten days. However, use of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole is avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy (9).

Once the treatment is complete, you will be put on low-dose antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe a daily dose of 1gm of sulfisoxazole (Gantrisin) or 100mg of nitrofurantoin monohydrate macrocrystals (Macrobid) to prevent any risk of kidney infection again (10).

During every prenatal visit, your doctor will recommend urine screening to check for the presence of any infection-causing bacteria or white blood cells in the urine.

[ Read: Bladder Infections During Pregnancy ]

How To Prevent Kidney Infection In Pregnancy

The following steps will help you reduce the risks of a kidney infection during pregnancy:

  • Drink eight to ten glasses of water every day as it promotes sufficient blood flow to the ureters. Insufficient blood flow leads to slower processing of urine, triggering bacterial infection. Clear or pale yellow color of urine indicates proper hydration.
  • Keep your genitals clean to inhibit bacterial infection.
  • After stool discharge, clean the area properly to prevent any bacteria from the rectal area migrating into the urethra.
  • Avoid using any soaps or spray that irritates your skin. It can contribute to harmful bacterial infestation.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol during the infection.

General hygiene and a healthy diet can help you prevent the infection. The two also support you on your path to recovery.

Certain foods are known to fight infections in our body.

Home Remedies For Kidney Infection

You may want to try the below foods to help your body recover sooner than later:

  1. Consumption of cranberry juice every day will help increase the acidity of urine, which controls any bacterial growth, thereby preventing kidney infection (11).
  1. Yogurt is a good source of antioxidants. Moreover, the live bacteria in it inhibit the attack of external bacteria at the epithelial cells of the urinary tract (12).
  1. Consume foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, broccoli, pepper, potatoes, tomatoes, kiwi, and strawberry (13).
  1. Parsley juice is a natural cleanser that helps in promoting the flow of urine. It helps in removing the toxins and microorganisms from the kidney (14).
  1. Marshmallow roots have diuretic properties that improve the urine flow. Moreover, they fight unwanted microorganisms, and its antioxidants prevent any free radical damage to the urinary tract (15).
  1. Apple cider vinegar is known for its antibacterial properties and helps balance the pH level in the body. This inhibits any bacterial infection in the urinary tract. Apple cider vinegar with honey works well for UTIs.
  1. Garlic is a natural diuretic that helps in eliminating the toxins and microorganisms from the body (16).
  1. Echinacea has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It is helpful in treating urethra swelling, thereby relieving you from pain while urinating (17).
  1. Celery seed, also known as Apium Graveolens, has antibacterial and antifungal properties. They improve the urine, flow thus eliminating the toxins.

Kidney infection is completely curable with medication and care. Visit the doctor as soon as you suspect urinary tract infection, and talk to them about your problem. Make sure to take the medicines on time as prescribed by the physician and maintain hygiene at home. Also, be careful while using public toilets.

[ Read: Bacterial Infection During Pregnancy ]

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What if I get urinary tract infection during pregnancy and have no symptoms?

This is associated with asymptomatic bacteriuria, wherein the bacteria gets colonized in the urinary tract and does not show any symptoms. If you have had UTI in the past, then your doctor will suggest a urine culture to check for any bacteria in the urine.

2. What factors increase the risk of UTI during pregnancy?

Diabetes, overweight, history of recurrent UTI, multiple pregnancies, among others, put you at the risk of getting UTI during pregnancy.

3. How soon will the medication work for me during pregnancy?

Once you are put on antibiotics, you are likely to show improvement in three days. However, you will need to complete the course even if there are no symptoms.

If you have any symptoms of kidney infection, be sure to talk to your doctor. Get your urine screened each time you visit the hospital and rely on the treatments to avoid any complications.

Do you have an experience to share? Let us know in the comment box.

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