Infectious Causes of Kidney Disease

Infectious Causes of Kidney Disease
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  • 0:03 An Attack From Both Sides
  • 0:41 What Is Pyelonephritis?
  • 1:20 Why Does Pyelonephritis Occur?
  • 3:32 How Is This Diagnosed…
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
What is a kidney infection technically called? You'll find out in this lesson. You'll also learn what the main cause of a kidney infection is, the two routes it can be established, and how it is diagnosed and treated.

An Attack from Both Sides

Back in World War II, Hitler thankfully made the massive mistake of opening up a second front against the Russians while still fighting against the British. This meant that Nazi Germany had to prevent an onslaught from two sides at once. This ultimately, and thankfully for the entire world, ended in catastrophic disaster for the Nazis.

Granted, this type of attack did a world of good. But when your kidneys are predisposed to being attacked from both sides by invading bacteria, it causes you a world of hurt. That'll be the focus of this lesson: a bacterial attack on your kidneys.

What Is Pyelonephritis?

An infection of one or both kidneys is known formally as pyelonephritis. Let's break the word down to figure out why.

  • Peylo- refers to the pelvis, namely the part of the kidneys known as the renal pelvis.
  • Nephro- refers to the kidneys.
  • -Itis indicates inflammation.

Therefore, we get the inflammation of the renal (kidney) pelvis. Of course, it's not just the renal pelvis that's inflamed, as the entire kidney can be affected. It's just that the renal pelvis is a conduit for the kidney infection.

Why Does Pyelonephritis Occur?

Again, the reason the renal pelvis is important in the context of the word itself is because it is the part of the ureter that initially collects urine made in the kidneys. The ureter then funnels the urine to the bladder, which then empties the urine out into the outer world through the urethra.

Here is where this information comes into play. The main way by which an infection of the kidneys is established is when bacteria enter the urethra, climb up into the bladder and from there through the tubular portion of the ureter, into the renal pelvis, and thereby into the kidneys themselves.

In a normal healthy person, the reason such infections are rare is because the flow of urine helps to push bacteria out and away from all of these structures. But if a person is obstructed or blocked due to a stone or when an enlarged uterus obstructs the downward flow of urine in the ureters of pregnant women, then the risk of pyelonephritis increases.

Unfortunately, like during many wars where countries get attacked from more than one side, bacteria can attack the kidneys from the other side, via the bloodstream - meaning bacteria will for any number of reasons enter into the bloodstream and be carried directly to the kidneys themselves, establishing a kidney infection.

These bacteria (bacteria that cause pyelonephritis) are many. Since even a tiny 'speck' of bacteria can establish a serious infection, you can use the acronym SPECK to help remember the bacteria that can cause pyelonephritis:

  • Staphylococci (such as Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Proteus mirabilis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • E. coli and Enterococci
  • Citrobacter
  • Klebsiella

Despite all the possibilities, do bear in mind that the main cause of pyelonephritis is E. coli, and in very rare cases, fungi and viruses can cause a kidney infection as well.

How Is This Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosis of pyelonephritis is made by looking for telltale symptoms and signs, such as a fever, enlarged and painful kidneys, and painful frequent urination as a result of a concurrent bladder infection.

Otherwise, a blood test may reveal signs indicative of an infection, such as elevated white blood cells.

Furthermore, a urine sample is taken in order to look for:

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