What is a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are quite common in children. This condition occurs when bacteria (germs) find their way into the bladder or kidneys.

The infection can affect different parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder (cystitis), kidneys (pyelonephritis), and urethra, the tube that empties urine from the bladder.

Symptoms of urinary tract Infections in a child

If your baby contracts a UTI, they may have a fever, vomit, and act fussy. Most cases of urinary tract infections occur in the lower part of the urinary tract (urethra and bladder). 

The most common signs and symptoms of a UTI in your child may include:

  • Pain, burning, or stinging sensation when urinating
  • Bedwetting after successful potty training
  • Waking up at night to use the bathroom often 
  • Belly pain in the area around the liver.
  • Fever
  • Foul-smelling pee that is cloudy or containing blood

Sometimes a mild infection might turn into a chronic one, especially in young children or when the infection gets to the kidneys. Signs of a more serious infection in young children may include:

Causes of urinary tract infections in a child

Normally, urinary tract infections occur when bacteria find their way into the urethra from the rectum or skin. The germs enter the urethra and travel up to the bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The most common cause of infections is the bacteria from the digestive tract.

Some children are at a higher risk of getting infected with a UTI than others. If your child is younger than five, they are less likely to get a urinary tract infection than an older kid. 

UTIs also tend to affect girls more than boys because girls have a shorter urethra than boys. However, the condition may occur in a male child if part of the urinary tract is blocked. 

If your child has a part or full blockage in the urinary tract they are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection. Uncircumcised boys are more likely to get a UTI than circumcised ones.

When to see the doctor for a urinary tract infection in a child

If your child is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above and they do not get better within 48 hours, you should take your child to the doctor. This is especially important if your child also develops a fever.

Diagnosis of urinary tract infections in a child

When you notice your child has some signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection, take them to see a doctor immediately. UTIs do not get better if left untreated and could be life-threatening. When you get to the hospital, the pediatrician will take a urine sample and test it for bacteria.

Your doctor may collect the urine sample in different ways depending on the age of your child:

  • If your child is older, they can urinate into a cup.
  • If your child is younger and not toilet-trained, the pediatrician will have a plastic bag placed over their genitals to collect the urine.
  • The children who are still in their diapers may have a tube placed in their urethra and bladder to collect the urine.
  • With an infant, the pediatrician may place a needle into their bladder through the stomach using a needle and syringe.

The urine sample will test bacteria and culture to detect bacteria and fungi. This test may take one to three days for the result to come back. If the tests reveal a bacterial infection, the pediatrician will prescribe the best medication for treatment.

If your child has had a few UTIs, their pediatrician may refer you to a nephrologist (kidney specialist) for imaging tests like:

Treatments for urinary tract infections in a child

If the doctor establishes that the UTI is due to a bacteria infection, they will prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are the best way to fight bacterial infections. The doctor may prescribe them for anywhere between three to ten days. 

Most UTIs get cured in about a week but your child should take another urine test after finishing their medicine. The number of days a child will need to take the medicine depends on the illness, the child's age, and the type of antibiotic.

Since the condition involves a child, you are responsible for helping your child prevent future infections. You can do so by:

  • Making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids
  • Teaching the female children to wipe from the front to the back after using the bathroom
  • Making sure your child empties their bladder completely when urinating
  • Protecting your child from getting constipation

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Medically Reviewed on 3/8/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Family Physician: "Urinary Tract Infections in Children: Why They Occur and How to Prevent Them."

Kids Health: "Urinary Tract Infection."

Kids Health: "Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)."

The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne: "Urinary tract infection (UTI)."

Mount Nittany Health: "When Your Child Has a Urinary Tract Infection."

University of Michigan: "Urinary tract infections in children."