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Kidney Infection vs UTI: What’s the Difference?

What is a UTI?

A UTI, also known as a urinary tract infection, is when bacteria infect any part of the urinary system. This includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. However, most UTIs occur in the lower urinary tract (aka. the bladder and urethra).

Did you know?

1 in 2 women will experience a UTI in their lifetime.

What is a Kidney Infection?

When a urinary tract infection (UTI) goes untreated, it can travel to one or both kidneys causing a kidney infection. If the kidney infection is not treated promptly, it can cause permanent kidney damage and can lead to a life-threatening infection if left untreated.

Kidney Infection vs UTI

The main difference between a kidney infection and UTI is that a urinary tract infection can occur anywhere in the urinary system while a kidney infection occurs in one or both of the kidneys.

Different Causes

Some factors that can cause a UTI are:

  • Diabetes
  • Not urinating after sexual activity 
  • Having multiple or new sexual partners
  • Wearing synthetic underwear
  • Menopause
  • Using diaphragms, douches, spermicides, or unlubricated condoms
  • Having a short distance between the urethra and anus


Kidney infections can not only be caused by the factors listed above but can also develop from: 

  • Obstruction of the urinary tract
  • Pregnancy 
  • Weakened immune system
  • Urinary catheter drainage from the urethra
  • Spinal damage
  • Vesicoureteral reflix

Symptom Differences

Kidney infections and UTIs share many of the same symptoms. Some common UTI symptoms include: 

  • Pain while urinating 
  • Feeling the need to urinate often 
  • Foul-smelling urine 
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine with blood in it
  • Passing only a small amount of urine at a time
  • Abdominal discomfort


Someone with a kidney infection will have similar symptoms but might also have: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Lower back pain 
  • Side pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Differences in Treatments

Kidney infections and UTIs are commonly treated with antibiotics. However, a serious kidney infection may warrant in-hospital treatment including IV (intravenous) antibiotics and fluids.

Works Cited

Jenkins, Sarah. “How Do I Know If I Have A UTI Or A Kidney Infection?” NAFC, NAFC, 10 Feb. 2021,

“Kidney Infection vs. UTI: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Outlook.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International,

“Kidney Infection.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Aug. 2020,

Seladi-Schulman, Jill. “Do I Have a Kidney Infection or a Urinary Tract Infection?” Heathline, 20 Dec. 2018,

“Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Oct. 2020,

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