ACR Appropriateness Criteria® Acute Pyelonephritis: 2022 Update

J Am Coll Radiol. 2022 Nov;19(11S):S224-S239. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2022.09.017.


Acute pyelonephritis (APN) is a severe urinary tract infection (UTI) that has the potential to cause sepsis, shock, and death. In the majority of patients, uncomplicated APN is diagnosed clinically and is responsive to treatment with appropriate antibiotics. In patients who are high risk or when treatment is delayed, microabscesses may coalesce to form an acute renal abscess. High-risk patients include those with a prior history of pyelonephritis, lack of response to therapy for lower UTI or for APN, diabetes, anatomic or congenital abnormalities of the urinary system, infections by treatment-resistant organisms, nosocomial infection, urolithiasis, renal obstruction, prior renal surgery, advanced age, pregnancy, renal transplant recipients, and immunosuppressed or immunocompromised patients. Pregnant patients and patients with renal transplants on immunosuppression are at an elevated risk of severe complications. Imaging studies are often requested to aid with the diagnosis, identify precipitating factors, and differentiate lower UTI from renal parenchymal involvement, particularly in high-risk individuals. Imaging is usually not appropriate for the first-time presentation of suspected APN in an uncomplicated patient. The primary imaging modalities used in high-risk patients with suspected APN are CT, MRI, and ultrasound, although CT was usually not appropriate for initial imaging in a pregnant patient with no other complications. The ACR Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed annually by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and revision process support the systematic analysis of the medical literature from peer-reviewed journals. Established methodology principles such as Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation or GRADE are adapted to evaluate the evidence. The RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method User Manual provides the methodology to determine the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures for specific clinical scenarios. In those instances in which peer-reviewed literature is lacking or equivocal, experts may be the primary evidentiary source available to formulate a recommendation.

Keywords: AUC; Acute pyelonephritis; Appropriateness Criteria; Pyelonephritis; Urinary tract infection.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Pyelonephritis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Societies, Medical
  • Ultrasonography
  • Urinary Tract Infections* / diagnostic imaging