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March 16, 2022 | Kidney Health

Kidney Stones vs UTIs vs Kidney Infections

Kidneys made of puzzle pieces

Kidney stones, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and kidney infections (oh my).

These three kidney conditions have their share of similarities and without blood and urine tests, it can be difficult to differentiate. These conditions also have the ability to build on each other if left untreated.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard objects created by chemicals in the urine1. Kidney stones can vary in size, and while some bring major pain, other people may not even know a kidney stone is present.

The symptoms of kidney stones include1:

  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back
  • More vague pain or stomach ache that doesn’t go away
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy

Because kidney stones form in the urinary tract, if they get to a size they cause a blockage, it could lead to a UTI.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A UTI happens when bacteria get into the urinary system and multiply, leading to redness, swelling, and pain2. UTIs tend to be more common in women than men because of anatomy, however, they can affect anyone. Symptoms of UTIs can overlap with symptoms of kidney stones. An urgent need to urinate, but with only a few drops of urine to pass is typical for a UTI versus kidney stones. Other symptoms include2:

  • A burning feeling during urination
  • An aching feeling, pressure, or pain in the lower abdomen (stomach)
  • Cloudy or blood-tinged urine
  • Strong odor to the urine

A urine test will be able to determine if you have a UTI. If so, an antibiotic course is typically prescribed. When a UTI isn’t caught early, it can spread to the kidneys and turn into a more serious infection.

What is a kidney infection?

The urinary tract is made up of two kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra2. A kidney infection is considered a type of UTI because it’s part of the urinary tract. A kidney infection occurs when bacteria get in the lower urinary tract, usually the bladder, and spreads to the kidneys in the upper urinary tract3. Symptoms of a kidney infection include3:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Pain in your back, side, or groin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent, painful urination

Children under two with a kidney infection may only have a high fever, while adults over 65 tend to show more cognitive symptoms such as confusion, jumbled speech, and hallucinations.

How to prevent kidney stones, UTIs, and kidney infections

Preventing UTIs and kidney infections follow similar steps because they are both caused by bacteria. Some best practices to follow include3:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Go the bathroom when you feel the need to urinate (don’t hold it)
  • Change out of sweaty or wet clothing as soon as possible
  • Wipe front to back after using the restroom
  • Urinating after sex

While some people are naturally more at risk for these infections, staying well hydrated and on top of personal hygiene can help you prevent these painful infections.

Because kidney stones are formed based on the chemicals in your urine, versus bacteria, prevention will look different from UTI and kidney infections. Your diet can contribute to kidney stones, so be aware that the following may increase your increase for certain kidney stones4:

  • Red meat, organ meats and shellfish
  • Sugar-sweetened food and drinks, especially those with high-fructose corn syrup
  • Alcohol

Kidney stones vs UTIs vs kidney infection

If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important to check in with your healthcare provider as soon as you can. While imaging scans or other tests may be needed to get the full picture, urine tests are typically the place to start. Scarlet® makes it possible to complete the urine samples for these tests in the comfort of your home. So, if you have kidney stone pain that may equal childbirth pain, or other painful symptoms, let Scarlet make one thing about kidney infections pain-free.



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