Your kidneys are reddish, bean-shaped organs that are vital to your survival. Located behind your abdomen, near the small of your back, kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from your blood as well as promoting or helping maintain other life processes. As delicate organs, the kidneys can stop functioning for any number of reasons, including an untreated urinary tract infection.
Kidney Structure and Function
Each of your kidneys has its own renal artery, renal vein and ureter. The blood enters each kidney through the renal artery. Once inside the blood is forced through a series of tiny blood vessels and is filtered using blood pressure. Urea, excess water and other impurities are removed, while proteins and other nutrients are allowed to continue circulating. The waste products removed are used to make urine, which is then excreted through each ureter and sent to the bladder for storage. Your kidneys also release hormones that aid in maintaining healthy blood pressure, promote the production of red blood cells and allow your bones to absorb calcium for strength.
Urinary Tract Infections
Along with bladder, the ureters and the urethra, the kidneys make up the urinary system. When any part of the urinary system is inflamed or irritated, it is called a urinary tract infection. These are caused when bacteria like E. coli colonize the urinary tract. This usually begins in the urethra, the tube through which urine is expressed from the body, travels to the bladder and can eventually make its way to the kidneys. Kidney infections, or pyelonephritis, are the worst type of urinary tract infections and generally require more treatment and recovery time than the others.
How UTIs Lead to Kidney Failure
In general, urinary tract infections are harmless, easily treatable conditions. However, untreated urinary tract infections often turn into pyelonephritis, an inflammation of the kidney. Kidney infections irritate and ultimately weaken the kidneys. As delicate vital organs, kidney damage is irreversible. There is no drug or procedure that can restore kidney function once it has been lost. If the kidneys continue to be colonized by the bacteria of urinary tract infection, they will eventually lose the ability to function and go into total kidney failure.
Treatment of Kidney Failure
Again, damage to the kidneys is irreversible. While you can live a relatively long and healthy life with one kidney, if both kidneys fail, there are only two options. The first is kidney dialysis, which is the artificial filtration of your blood using an outside machine or your stomach lining. The other option is replacing the kidneys that are not working with healthy kidneys from a donor. Kidney transplants are long processes that involve searching for a healthy donor who is also a match. Even perfectly matched donor kidneys do not guarantee that the procedure will be a success.
The best way to prevent kidney failure from an untreated urinary tract infection is to prevent the infection. Keep your genitals clean and dry. Always wipe front to back after a bowel movement to avoid spreading bacterial from your stool into your urethra. Never hold your urine and always go as soon as you feel the urge to urinate. If you do contract a urinary tract infection, seek treatment immediately and tell your health care provider if the symptoms have not subsided after a few days.
- Photo Credit Center for Disease Control/Dr. Haraszti
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