Pyelonephritis: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson briefly defines and explains pyelonephritis. Learn about this condition's numerous signs and symptoms and its most important treatment option, antibiotics.


When you think of a urinary tract infection, what do you think of? Most people probably think of a bladder infection. And that is one kind of urinary tract infection. Of course, the urinary system is composed of more than just the bladder.

It's the kidneys that produce urine, and they can be infected as well. A kidney infection is more technically called pyelonephritis. 'Pyelo-' refers to the renal pelvis, '-nephr-' refers to a kidney and '-itis' refers to inflammation. The renal pelvis collects the urine produced by the kidneys and funnels it into the tube-like portion of the ureter, which is a structure that sends the urine to the bladder.

Let's explore the signs, symptoms and treatments of pyelonephritis.

Signs & Symptoms

For this lesson, we're going to pretend you're a physician. We'll call you Dr. Nephros. What signs and symptoms would you expect in a person with pyelonephritis, Dr. Nephros?

Classically, you'd expect the following:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Flank or back pain

This doesn't mean you'll see all three or all three at the same time, Dr. Nephros! This is just the 'textbook' presentation and we know people aren't textbooks, right?

Other signs and symptoms you'll want to take note of include:

  • Chills
  • Frequent urination and/or a strong urge to urinate
  • Painful urination or a sensation of burning when urinating
  • Abdominal or groin pain
  • Pus or blood in the urine, which will tinge the urine white or red, respectively.


Let's say you've diagnosed a patient of yours as having pyelonephritis. What are you going to do about it? Well, if you think back to your days in medical school and residency, you'll recall that pyelonephritis is mainly caused by bacteria. And the most common of which, with respect to causing pyelonephritis, is Escherichia coli, or E. coli. Your patient's urine sample confirms this diagnostically.

E. coli is a very common cause of pyelonephritis

So what do you do to treat it? You use antibiotics, drugs that kill bacteria or stop them from multiplying. In the latter case, the bacteria either die on their own or your immune system kills them. Some antibiotics that might be used to treat pyelonephritis are:

  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Ceftazidime
  • Vancomycin

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