Jun 5, 2017, 11:15:28 AM CDT Mar 18, 2024, 10:10:07 AM CDT

UTI in kids (for Parents)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in kids and toddlers are common. Learn the signs and symptoms, when to take your child to the doctor and how to get them the help they need.

Little girl holding her stomach in pain. Little girl holding her stomach in pain.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children are common and treatable. Children of any age can get UTIs, including babies and toddlers. To prevent complications, call your child's doctor to get treatment as soon as you notice symptoms, especially if they get these symptoms over and over again.

Israel Nosnik, M.D., Pediatric Urologist at Children's Health℠, shares information about common UTI symptoms in babies, toddlers and children, as well as how UTIs are diagnosed and treated.

UTI symptoms in kids

Urethra and bladder infections are the most common forms of UTI in children, but these infections can also affect the ureters and kidneys. UTI symptoms are generally the same across genders. If your baby, toddler or child has a UTI, you may notice the following symptoms:

UTI symptoms in babies

  • Fever
  • Crying when they pee
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Vomiting

UTI symptoms in toddlers and children

  • Bedwetting
  • Chills
  • Crying and fussiness
  • Fever
  • Foul-smelling, cloudy or blood-tinged urine
  • Frequent urination, although very little urine may be produced
  • Loss of control of urine (incontinence)
  • Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Pain below the belly button
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Pain above the pubic bone
  • Pain in the back or side below the ribs
  • Tiredness
  • Waking at night to urinate

How are UTIs in children diagnosed?

It's important to know that UTI symptoms in kids are similar to symptoms of other conditions and infections. Always contact your child's primary care doctor when symptoms appear. The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms to determine if an examination is necessary.

To confirm a UTI and identify the type of bacteria causing it, doctors may need a urine sample. Older children will be asked to urinate in a cup at the doctor's office. To diagnose a UTI in a baby or young child, the doctor may need to:

  • Insert a catheter through their urethra and into the bladder to collect urine.
  • Collect urine by attaching a bag around their genitals, within a diaper, until the child urinates. This method carries a risk of urine contamination by normal skin bacteria.

How is a UTI in children treated?

UTI treatment for children commonly includes using antibiotics. The doctor will send your child's urine sample to the lab. Analyzing the sample may take a couple of days. In the meantime, the doctor will prescribe your child an antibiotic that treats the most common bacteria that cause UTIs. If your child's urine culture identifies bacteria that may be causing symptoms, but is not treated by that antibiotic, the doctor may prescribe a new antibiotic.

Be sure to give your child the antibiotic in the prescribed dosage at the prescribed times each day. Your child must finish the full antibiotic course to ensure the infection doesn't return. You should also encourage your child to drink plenty of water.

With proper treatment of a UTI in children, they should feel better in two to three days. Your doctor may need to perform further tests if your child has repeated infections. It is important to treat your child's UTI promptly because untreated infections can cause kidney damage or, in rare cases, a bacterial infection of the bloodstream known as sepsis.

What causes a UTI in children?

UTIs are caused when bacteria infects any portion of the urinary tract (the bladder, kidneys, ureters or urethra). Bacteria, often the intestinal bacteria E. coli, can easily enter the urinary tract from the skin around the anus. UTIs are more common in girls, especially during potty training, because a girl's urethra is shorter and closer to the anus. Uncircumcised baby boys also have a slightly higher risk. Some risk factors for UTI are not preventable, including:

  • A structural or functional abnormality in the urinary tract (like a blockage).
  • An abnormal backward flow of urine from the bladder up the ureters and toward the kidneys, known as vesicoureteral reflux, which is very common in kids with UTIs.

In some cases, additional tests such as ultrasound or bladder x-rays may be recommended to look for these conditions and to determine the most effective treatment.

How can I prevent UTIs in my child?

Following these tips may prevent symptoms of UTI in children.

  • Encourage your child to use the bathroom when they have to go, rather than holding it.
  • Teach your child how to properly wipe, front to back, after going to the bathroom.
  • Buy your potty-trained child cotton underwear, which allows the area to dry properly.
  • Dress your child in loose-fitting clothes, because tight clothes can trap moisture.
  • Make sure your child drinks enough fluids each day, preferably water. Ask your doctor how many ounces your child needs. Babies consume what they need through breastmilk or formula.

When should I take my child to the doctor for a UTI?

If your child is experiencing UTI symptoms, contact their doctor. UTIs are very easy to treat but will not go away on their own. It’s also important to make sure that a doctor confirms whether it's a UTI or something else that’s causing your child’s symptoms so they can get the right treatment.

With proper treatment of a UTI, most kids will feel better in a couple days. Learn signs, symptoms and how to treat UTI in kids from @Childrens.

Learn more

The Pediatric Urology department at Children's Health offers comprehensive care from prenatal to adolescence and beyond. Learn more about the Urology program and services.

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bacterial disease, bladder, infection, infectious diseases, UTI, urinary tract infection

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