Urinary tract infections are problematic and can be painful. However, they are usually intermittent and acute, meaning they aren’t something that recurs frequently. However, in some cases, a UTI can be chronic, and this is usually due to an underlying condition of the urinary tract or some abnormality in the body. While a UTI should be treated with antibiotics, and taking the full course of antibiotics, should clear up the infection completely, some are more stubborn, and much of the time, this is due to another problem, such as hydronephrosis. That is especially true in severe infections.
What is hydronephrosis?
To understand hydronephrosis, it’s essential to first know how the urinary tract functions and what its responsibilities are. The tract is made up of four parts: the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra.
- The kidneys have several responsibilities. They remove excess water and waste from the blood stream, regulate blood pressure, and keep body temperature even. They process the excess water and waste so that it can drain from the body. It also allows for reabsorption of water if the body becomes slightly dehydrated.
- The ureters connect the kidneys to the bladder, allowing the fluid and waste to pass from the kidneys to the bladder, where urine is held.
- The bladder monitors the amount of fluid being removed from the body and, when it reaches a certain capacity, sends a “warning” signal that the individual needs to empty it. Emptying the bladder completely and regularly upon feeling the urge helps assure that urine doesn’t flow back into the kidney.
- The urethra is the tube that allows urine to pass from the bladder out of the body.
Anyone of any age can experience hydronephrosis, with several possible causes existing:
- Kidney stones
- A birth defect that causes blockage
- Scarring of tissue in the kidneys or ureters due to a previous surgery
- Blood clot
- Tumors or cancer in the bladder, colon, prostate, or cervix
- Enlarged prostate
- Inflammation in the urinary tract caused by an infection of any kind, including STIs
Symptoms of Hydronephrosis
Part of the reason that hydronephrosis and urinary tract infections are linked is due to some similarity in the symptoms. Some of the main symptoms that happen across both conditions include:
- Painful or burning urination, typically with insufficient results
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Sudden, and urgent need to pee
- Slow stream of urine
- Pain or pressure in the back, abdomen, or flanks
Hydronephrosis also mimics some symptoms of a more serious UTI, the kidney infection.
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
Unlike a UTI, however, hydronephrosis usually presents with less frequent need to urinate, as opposed to increased frequency in a UTI.
Hydronephrosis and UTIs: Cause and effect
Determining cause and effect with hydronephrosis and UTIs can be an exercise in futility, much like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. That’s because either condition can cause the other.
- A UTI causes hydronephrosis. When a urinary tract infection develops, it can cause swelling and inflammation throughout any part of the urinary tract. This inflammation causes difficulty with flow of urine, which could cause the backup in the kidneys, leading to hydroneprhosis.
- Hydronephrosis causes a UTI. If another underlying condition leads to hydronephrosis, the fluid and waste removed from the body sits stagnant in the kidney or kidneys affected. This is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can result in a kidney infection, the most serious type of UTI.
Complications from hydronephrosis
In addition, sepsis could occur. Septicemia would strike first, in which the kidneys, compromised in their ability to filter waste from the body, would leak both the waste and the bacteria back into the bloodstream. Septicemia creates flu-like symptoms, with the waste still existing in the body and generally causing ailment. Sepsis goes further, carrying the bacteria through the blood to settle in other organs and cause further infection, which can cause those organs to start shutting down and lead to death.
Hydronephrosis and UTIs: Treatment and prevention
Because hydronephrosis and UTIs are so closely linked, it’s important to first take steps to avoid a UTI.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. A good rule of thumb is at least six eight-ounce glasses of water every day.
- Be sure to use the restroom as soon as the urge arises rather than holding it. Also, take the extra few seconds to assure that the bladder is completely drained.
- Wipe from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
- Cleanse the genitals before and after sex, and urinate immediately following intercourse.
- Take showers instead of baths so that bacteria isn’t easily transferred to the urethra.
If there is an underlying condition, seek out treatment. There are surgeries to correct congenital blockages. If there’s a blood clot or kidney stones, it’s essential to get imaging (CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, x-ray, or other) to find the problem so it can be treated or removed.
Pay attention to symptoms triggering the idea that something is amiss with the body, especially in the urinary tract. Complications compound quickly, and then it’s far more difficult to treat. Also watch children, since they are unable to articulate as well. Hydronephrosis isn’t common in children but does occur, and this should be addressed as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage that will plague them through their life.