Urinary Tract Infections in Young Children
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What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) affects the kidneys, bladder, and urethra. Infection occurs when bacteria builds in the urinary tract when waste isn’t removed or the bladder isn’t emptied. When the bladder is involved in the infection, it is called cystitis. If the kidneys are involved, it is a more serious condition called pyelonephritis.
In general, UTIs are more common in girls. They can occur more often when children are potty training. Boys who have not been circumcised by the age of 1 are at risk of UTIs as well. Kids who have vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) may get UTIs more often. VUR is a condition in which urine can flow back into the urinary tract. VUR typically is present at birth.
Path to improved health
The sooner you detect a UTI, the quicker treatment can begin. It is important to know the symptoms. Common UTI symptoms include:
- Burning feeling or pain when you urinate
- Feeling like you need to urinate more often than usual
- Feeling the urge to urinate but not being able to
- Stomach pain
- Low back pain
Your child may not be able to communicate these symptoms. You should look for the following warning signs:
- Cloudy, dark, smelly, or bloody urine
- Fever or chills
- Poor appetite or less active
- Going through more diapers than usual
- Wetting clothes even though they are potty trained
To diagnose a UTI, a healthcare provider may review symptoms and do a physical exam. The healthcare provider also will do a urine test (urinalysis) to confirm the diagnosis. Getting a sample of urine can be hard in young children. There are several ways a healthcare provider can collect urine.
- Catheterized specimen urine culture: The healthcare provider places a thin plastic tube (catheter) into the child’s bladder.
- Urine collection bag: The healthcare provider places a plastic bag beneath the child’s vagina or penis to collect urine. This method is the least reliable.
Based on the test result, the healthcare provider may perform other tests to rule out conditions similar to UTIs or determine the cause.
If your child has frequent infections, your healthcare provider may order an ultrasound or voiding cysto-urethrogram (VCUG) before referring you to a specialist. A VCUG allows your healthcare provider to evaluate your child’s bladder and urethra using contrast and X-rays.
Treatment for a UTI depends on the cause and your child’s age. Infants often require treatment in the hospital. This is because they may need antibiotics through an IV (intravenous) or catheter. Older children can take medicine at home.
Things to consider
There are several things you can do to help prevent UTIs in children.
- Keep your child’s genital area clean. This helps prevent bacteria from forming or spreading.
- Have your child drink plenty of non-sugar-sweetened fluids, especially water.
- Teach your child not to hold it too long when they need to go to the bathroom. A backup of urine in the bladder can lead to bacteria growth.
- Teach your child to wipe from front to back when they go to the bathroom. This is especially important for girls.
- Do not dress your child in clothes that are too tight.
- Always bathe your child after swimming or being active.
When to contact a healthcare provider
Contact a healthcare provider if your child’s symptoms don’t improve or get worse with medicine. If your child gets a UTI more than once in 6 months, the healthcare provider may want to switch treatments.