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Kathy’s Big Adventure

By Kathy Edstrom

Being in the hospital can be compared to spending time at an all-inclusive spa. Look at the similarities. You receive breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed, all in the comfort of your room. Whenever you need anything, you just call someone and they’ll tend to your needs. And don’t forget the robe and slippers that are provided for your use while you enjoy your stay as a guest.

Now when you look at the pleasure aspect, perhaps it’s not so similar. But keeping a positive attitude and looking for the best in every situation sure helps in the healing process.

I decided to write an article about kidney infections because I learned that many people don’t realize how severe the infection can become if not treated immediately. The same goes for pets. I will be discussing urinary tract infections and kidney infections in both people and animals.

Kicking Off the New Year

It all started on January 1, 2003, New Year’s Day. I had nothing planned except to enjoy the day with my husband and dogs. As the day progressed, the continual urge to urinate was becoming more frequent by the hour. I hadn’t had a bladder infection before, but I was well aware of the symptoms.

The following day I spoke with my chiropractor. She recommended I try cranberry juice to prevent the bacteria from attaching itself to the bladder wall. I knew this was a standard home remedy for bladder infections so I thought I’d give it a try.

By the third day, my lower back was really hurting. I assumed it was a flare up from a previous back injury so I didn’t make much of it. Going into the fourth day of the bladder infection I developed a fever and suffered from chills. The very next day I couldn’t get out of bed. My fever was up to 103 degrees and the chills were getting worse. My husband placed four additional blankets over me and I still was shivering out of control. We thought I had developed a bad case of the flu.

Monday January 6th, my fever rose to 104.9 degrees. I could not move. I was sweating profusely. By that evening my husband took me to an urgent care center to obtain a diagnosis. We realized this had to be something more than a flu bug. The results of the urinalysis did indeed prove I had a major bladder infection, but the doctor also believed I could have a kidney infection and strongly urged us to make an appointment to see our family doctor first thing that following morning.

I got home that night and literally collapsed on to the bed. In the middle of the night, the vomiting started, the fever was still at 104.9 degrees and the chills were causing me to shake uncontrollably. First thing in the morning, my husband, Art called our family doctor for an appointment. I was fortunate my doctor was able to see me on such short notice. Of course when Art called me that morning to tell me of my appointment, I began to protest. “Oh, Art, I’m too sick to get up. I can’t go to the doctor. I can’t move…blah, blah, blah.” Art’s reply was, “Well, you better get yourself well enough to get dressed because you’re going to the doctor. I’m picking you up in forty-five minutes.” Even though Art’s response may have sounded a bit harsh, he knows me well. If he wouldn’t have insisted on my going to the doctor, I probably wouldn’t have gone simply because I felt so weak. All I wanted to do was stay in bed and try to stay warm in between the bouts of profuse sweating.

It literally took me 45-minutes to get dressed.

I crawled into a pair of jeans and a clean sweatshirt. I ran a comb through my tangled hair, brushed my teeth, and made my way into the living room where I waited a short three minutes before Art arrived to take me to my appointment.

When the nurse took my temperature it was still 104 degrees. My doctor obtained the test results from the urgent care clinic from the night before. From reading those results he said to Art, “Kathy has to be hospitalized immediately.” Art asked if we had time to go home and pack some items and my doctor said no, that we needed to go directly from his office to the hospital.

Originally the doctor thought I’d only be there for two days, but because of some complications, I was there for five days. I tried to put the spa spin on the whole experience. I was attempting to make my spa service comparisons, and the “stay three nights, get the fourth one free”, but I don’t believe the hospital offered that package.

For four full days I was hooked up to IV’s. I was severely dehydrated, which didn’t help the situation. An IV also administered the antibiotic, Cipro, for the kidney infection. The kidney infection caused mild anemia so I was given Iron supplements while I was in the hospital to help increase the development of red blood cells, which I have been taking twice daily since I left the hospital. I will continue taking Iron for another month. I will then have my blood tested again to check the red blood cell count.

While I was in the hospital, I had a CT scan to see if there was any damage done to the left kidney. Upon looking at the test results, there was an indication of a potential problem with my gall bladder. So I had an ultrasound and thankfully the results turned out fine from that. The CT scan did indeed show that I had a severe infection in the left kidney, but no further kidney problems were represented.

I am as pleased as punch to report that I have recovered from my “big adventure”. I don’t want to ever go through this or anything like it again. Next time I want some time off, I’ll go to an actual spa and skip the hospital scene. I’m sure the décor and food will be much better than what I was subjected to.

So, how on earth did I get to this point from having a bladder infection to a full blown kidney infection in less than one week’s time? Well, sit back and let me tell you about Pyelonephritis (kidney infection).


Pyelonephritis is a kidney infection, usually from bacteria that have spread from the bladder.

Symptoms and signs include back, side and groin pain; urgent, frequent urination; pain or burning during urination; fever; nausea and vomiting; and pus and blood in the urine.

Diagnosis is made with a urine test to identify bacteria and formations of white blood cells, called casts, shaped like tubes in the kidneys. If an infection cannot be easily cured, x-rays might be done to look for abnormalities in the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. A kidney infection is treated with an appropriate antibiotic, and abnormalities may need to be surgically treated.

An untreated or recurrent kidney infection can lead to chronic pyelonephritis, scarring of the kidneys and permanent kidney damage.1

A kidney infection occurs when microbes, usually bacteria, invade the tissues of the kidney and multiply. One or both kidneys may be infected. Infection originating directly from the bladder is called an ascending infection.

Inflammation occurs in response to the infection. As a result of the infection and inflammation, scarring and other tissue damage may occur. Most cases of acute kidney infection resolve without any permanent kidney damage. In severe cases, kidney damage is so extensive that the kidneys can no longer function, a state called renal failure.

Types of kidney infections:

· Acute pyelonephritis: uncomplicated kidney infection, which has a short and relatively severe course. (This is what I was diagnosed with.)

· Chronic pyelonephritis: long-standing disease associated with either active or inactive (healed) kidney infection.

· Emphysematous pyelonephritis: acute infection associated with gas in and around the kidney. This type almost always occurs in persons with diabetes.

· Pyonephrosis: acute or chronic pyelonephritis associated with blockage of the ureter.

· Renal and perinephric abscesses: abscesses (pockets of pus) in and around the kidney.

Kidney infections occur most often in adult females who are otherwise healthy. Urinary tract infections are uncommon in males until old age, when bladder catheterization and other urinary procedures are more commonly performed. 2

Causes & Symptoms 3

Bacteria are usually the cause of kidney infection, although infection by fungi (yeasts and molds) or viruses does occur. The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) is responsible for about 85% of the cases of acute pyelonephritis. Other common causes include Klebsiella, Enterobacter, Proteus, Enterococcus, and Pseudomonas species. Infection by Proteus species can lead to the formation of stones. E. coli causes only 60% of the acute pyelonephritis cases in the elderly. Kidney infection may also be caused by Mycobacteria tuberculosis or other Mycobacteria species or by the yeast Candida. Kidney infection can be caused by Group B Streptococci in newborns.

Certain women are inherently more susceptible to urinary tract infections. Researchers have found that women who have recurrent infections possess certain markers on their blood cells. Also, the bacteria, which commonly cause urinary tract infections, stick more readily to the vaginal cells of women who have recurrent infections. Other risk factors for kidney disease include:

Certain women are inherently more susceptible to urinary tract infections. Researchers have found that women who have recurrent infections possess certain markers on their blood cells. Also, the bacteria, which commonly cause urinary tract infections, stick more readily to the vaginal cells of women who have recurrent infections. Other risk factors for kidney disease include:

o bladder catheterization or instrumentation
o diabetes
o pregnancy
o urinary calculi (stone)
o urinary tract abnormalities
o urinary tract obstruction

Treatment 4

Delays in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney infection can lead to permanent kidney damage. The person who suspects kidney infection should seek professional care immediately. Alternative medicine may be used as an adjunct to the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Dietary changes which may help to control and prevent kidney infection include:

o Drinking eight to 12 glasses of water daily helps to wash out bacteria (although this may also dilute antibacterial factors in the urine).
o Acidifying the urine by eating few alkaline foods (dairy and soda).
o Following a diet rich in grains, vegetables, and acidifying juices, like citrus.
o Eliminating high sugar foods (sweet vegetables, fruits, sugar, and honey).
o Drinking unsweetened cranberry juice to acidify the urine and provide the antimicrobial agent hippuric acid. Cranberry capsules can substitute for the juice.
o Ingesting at least one clove of garlic (or up to 1,200 mg garlic as a tablet) daily for its anti-infective properties.

Prevention 5

Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for UTIs, but as of early 2000, none were ready for human studies. The key to preventing kidney infection is to promptly treat the bladder infection. Measures taken to prevent a bladder infection may prevent subsequent kidney infection. These include:

* drinking large amounts of fluid
* reducing intake of sugar
* voiding frequently and as soon as the need arises
* proper cleansing of the area around the urethra (females), especially after sexual intercourse
* acupuncture (effective in preventing recurrent lower UTIs in women)
* avoiding use of vaginal diaphragms and spermicidal jelly (females)

The primary preventive measure specifically for males is prompt treatment of prostate infections. Chronic prostatitis may go unnoticed but can trigger recurrent UTIs. In addition, males who require temporary catheterization following surgery can be given antibiotics to lower the risk of UTIs.

What about Pets?

Like humans, the infection usually starts in the bladder, called cystitis. (Inflamed bladder caused by bacteria that have entered the bladder from the outside, usually through the urethra, thereby resulting in an infection 6.)

The animal will experience frequent urination. This can be painful and often causes a burning sensation. It is not uncommon for the pet to start to urinate, but stops only to try again a short time later. Because of the frequent urge to urinate, it is not uncommon for pets to have accidents in the house. If the infection is severe, blood may also appear in the urine.

If the infection is not treated immediately, the same can occur with the pet as it can in humans. The infection can spread quickly to the kidney. (As what happened with me.)

So how do you treat a pet with a bladder infection so it doesn’t spread to the kidney? Take a fresh urine sample to your veterinarian as soon as you see the symptoms arise. The veterinarian can then examine the urine for the bacteria that causes cystitis. If the bacteria are found, antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the infection.

When my youngest German shepherd, Mojo, developed a bladder infection, I took him to a holistic veterinarian to see if there was something that could be done without the use of drugs. We tried many supplements and nothing worked. I knew we had to go for something much stronger than what the holistic veterinarian was willing to prescribe.

I then took another sample to my “conventional” veterinarian. He prescribed an antibiotic for Mojo and this didn’t even help. Mojo’s pH was very high. We tried different dog foods in attempts to lower his pH, and that didn’t help. I was adding water to his food, and tried to get Mojo to drink as much water as possible to aid in the flushing of his bladder. Of course the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make ‘em drink” applied to Mojo as well. That’s an issue with pets. They don’t understand how to make themselves well, so it is a challenge as our pets’ caretakers to find ways to help them get well.

In addition to the fact that Mojo had this infection, and his pH was very high, he also developed struvite crystals (stones). These are comprised of various elements such as magnesium, calcium, phosphate and ammonia. The most common stone, struvite, is a mixture of magnesium and ammonium phosphate. Because Mojo’s urine was so basic, (alkaline urine with a higher pH) he was susceptible to developing struvite crystals.

It is believed that Mojo’s bladder infection occurred due to the development of the struvite crystals. The cause of this stone development is unknown. There is some belief that it has to do with the way the body metabolizes salts and other products in the diet.

The risks of not treating urinary stones are very serious. If the stones become lodged within the urethra, obstructing normal urination, the pet will be unable to urinate and will normally die within 48-hours.

Difficulty in urination is always an emergency!

Along with the prescribed antibiotic, we also had to use a medication that is normally used for humans, called Lithostat. This medication is used, in addition to antibiotics or medical procedures, to treat certain types of bladder (urinary tract) infections. In Mojo’s case it was intended to lower his pH, and thankfully it did.

Once Mojo was receiving the prescribed antibiotic and the Lithostat, the crystals disappeared and Mojo’s pH was lowered. Since then, I’ve had Mojo on a new diet that is lower in Magnesium. My “conventional” veterinarian found that this is most helpful when dealing with an infection of this nature. Of course I always monitor my dogs’ elimination. Whenever I observe something that appears out of the ordinary for that dog, I immediately contact my veterinarian for his expert advice.

Don’t take bladder infections lightly. I learned first hand it can turn into a serious kidney infection in a matter of a few days.

Published March 2003

Resources Used in Article

(1) National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

(2) through (5) Rowland, Belinda. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Group, 2001

(6) Foster, DVM. Race and Smith, DVM, Marty. What’s the Diagnosis? New York, NY: Howell Book House (1995)