Infections Caused by Untreated Kidney Stones

The kidneys play an important role in keeping the body healthy by filtering out wastes and reabsorbing essential substances, such as sugar. When the kidneys develop stones large enough to block the passageways in the renal pelvis and ureter, urine gets trapped and wastes start to accumulate. A buildup of toxins and urine in the kidneys induces urinary tract infections, which impair normal functions of the kidneys and may even cause death. Urethritis, cystitis and pyelonephritis are conditions requiring medical attention.

Close up of kidney stones against a ruler. Credit: piotr_malczyk/iStock/Getty Images


Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, are bacteria that normally live in the colon. When these bacteria multiply in the urethra, an infection called urethritis -- an inflammation of the urethra -- occurs. The flow of urine generally helps wash out the bacteria through the urethra, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. When a blockage of urine flow occurs because of kidney stones, the bacteria will multiply and inflame the urethra. MedlinePlus lists the signs and symptoms of urethritis in men as bloody urine or semen; painful urination; presence of discharge from the penis; fever; frequent or urgent urination; itchy, tender or swollen groin; and pain during intercourse or ejaculation. For women, the signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, painful urination, fever and chills, frequent or urgent urination, pelvic pain and presence of discharge from the vagina.


Cystitis, or inflammation of the bladder, develops when urethritis is left untreated. According to MedlinePlus, cystitis occurs more often in women than in men because of the shorter urethra and consequently the shorter distance the bacteria have to travel to the bladder. Important warning signs of cystitis include cloudy urine accompanied by a strong odor, frequent or urgent urination, painful urination, urination at night and pressure in the lower pelvis.


When bacteria build up in the kidneys, pyelonephritis, or inflammation of the renal pelvis and renal medulla, occurs. A person with a kidney infection should seek medical treatment immediately, because, if left untreated, the bacteria may cause permanent damage. Furthermore, toxins and bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause infections to other organs and tissues. These infections may lead to serious health complications and even death.

The University of Maryland Medical Center lists the following signs and symptoms of pyelonephritis: back pain; chills and fever; severe abdominal pain; fatigue; discomfort; confusion; vomiting and nausea; flushed, warm and moist skin; cloudy urine accompanied by a strong odor; bloody urine; frequent or urgent urination; urination at night; and painful urination.


The James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute states that a kidney stone less than 5 mm and not causing pain can be left untreated. A small kidney stone may dislodge on its own and be flushed out in urination. However, it is still important for patients to have their condition monitored by a healthcare provider.

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