Medically reviewed on May 19, 2023 by Karen Janson, MS, MD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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UTIs, urinary tract infections, and kidney infections are both conditions that impact the urinary system, but they have several important differences in symptoms, severity, and treatment.
UTIs commonly refer to infection of the lower urinary tract, or the urethra and bladder. These infections occur frequently, affecting an estimated 40% to 60% of people assigned female at birth at least once in their lives.  In general, they tend to be relatively mild and respond well to treatment with the help of a healthcare provider.
Kidney infections are a more serious type of UTI that progresses from an infection of the lower urinary tract, up to the kidneys.  Kidney infection symptoms can be much more uncomfortable and require prompt medical intervention to assess and treat. If neglected, a kidney infection can lead to severe health complications.
Knowing the differences between UTIs and kidney infection is an important step in caring for your urinary health and seeking treatment. Below, we’ll map out their causes, the symptoms that distinguish a kidney infection vs. UTI, and treatment options to help put you on the road to recovery.
Healthcare providers recognize three main types of UTIs, two involving the lower urinary tract and one including the upper urinary tract, graded depending on how much of the urinary system is impacted. These infections include: 
Many factors can play a role in admitting bacteria to the urethra and initiating a UTI. Some contributing factors include: 
If you experience symptoms of a bladder infection or lower UTI, you may notice: [1,2]
Most kidney infections progress from a lower UTI that has not yet been treated or has not responded well to treatment.  In other circumstances, a kidney infection can result from:
Because they often have the same etiology, UTIs and kidney infections share many of the same risk factors: having female reproductive anatomy, going through menopause, and so on. However, you may be more susceptible to a kidney infection if: 
Like their causes, many symptoms of kidney infection overlap with UTI symptoms. When a UTI has progressed to the kidneys, however, you may also experience: 
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to begin a course of treatment. Left untreated, kidney infections can lead to: 
Can a UTI go away on its own? In some cases, the immune system can take care of a UTI on its own, eliminating the need for treatment.  However, if you’re wondering, “Why do I keep getting UTI,” it’s common to experience recurring UTIs: roughly 25% of people assigned female at birth who develop a UTI will have another one within 6 months. 
To eliminate symptoms and reduce the risk of further progression, however, UTIs are treated with a course of antibiotics, most commonly: 
In addition to antibiotics, your healthcare provider may recommend implementing some lifestyle habits to help prevent the spread of bacteria to the urethra. Healthy practices include:
After starting treatment, symptoms of a bladder infection may recede in a matter of a few days.4 However, it is extremely important to complete the prescribed antibiotic protocol even if you notice a cessation of symptoms.  Stopping your antibiotics prematurely may contribute to a relapse of UTI symptoms and antibiotic resistance, which could make you less responsive to future treatment. 
Treatment protocols for pyelonephritis vary depending on the cause and severity of the infection. In less severe cases, kidney infections are treated with antibiotic medication either orally or intravenously (with an IV). 
Your healthcare provider may run tests to see if your infection can be attributed to a particular strain of bacteria. That way, they can refine your antibiotic protocol to deal with that specific strain (rather than all of the bacteria that may infect your urinary system). 
Being diagnosed with a kidney infection can be scary, but in most cases, you will not have to stay in the hospital to be treated.
However, more complex circumstances may require hospitalization and more aggressive therapy. For instance, if your infection resulted from kidney stones, you may require treatment to remove them as well as antibiotics to alleviate the infection.
In most cases, kidney infection symptoms begin to recede within several days of taking antibiotics.
However, the duration of antibiotic courses prescribed may differ between individuals, diagnoses, and healthcare providers. Antibiotic courses may last for several days to several weeks.  If your kidney infection requires treatment at the hospital, it is likely you’ll need more time to recover.
UTIs and urinary health in general aren’t often discussed, and it’s normal to feel confused about how to read the cues your body is sending you.
If you think you have a UTI, speak with a licensed healthcare provider through Everlywell. Our licensed clinicians will meet with you virtually to help diagnose your symptoms, and if needed, can provide online UTI treatment.
Take a proactive approach to your well-being by exploring Everlywell’s virtual care services today.