Urinary Tract Infection in Children: Know the Signs and Next Steps
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused when bacteria infects any portion of the urinary tract (the bladder, kidneys, ureters or urethra)
UTIs in children are very common and very treatable. To prevent complications, it’s best to call your child’s doctor to get treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.
What are the symptoms of UTI in children?
Urethra infection and bladder infection are the most common forms of UTI in children, but these infections can also affect the ureters and kidneys. If your child has a UTI, you may notice:
- Fever (occasionally the only symptom in babies)
- Foul-smelling, cloudy or blood-tinged urine
- Frequent urination, although very little urine may be produced
- Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
- Pain below your child’s belly button
- Pain or burning sensation when your child urinates
- Waking at night to urinate
How are UTIs in children diagnosed?
It’s important to know that UTI symptoms are similar to symptoms of other conditions and infections. Always have your child checked by your doctor when symptoms appear. He or she will ask about your child’s symptoms and conduct a brief examination.
To confirm a UTI and identify the type of bacteria causing it, the doctor may need a urine sample. Older children will be asked to urinate in a cup at the doctor’s office. To diagnose a baby or young child, the doctor may need to:
- Insert a catheter through his or her urethra and into the bladder to collect urine.
- Collect urine by attaching a bag around his or her genitals, within a diaper, until the child urinates. This method carries a risk of urine contamination by normal skin bacteria.
How is a UTI treated, and why is prompt treatment important?
The doctor will send your child’s sample to the lab, but analysis may take a couple of days. In the meantime, he or she 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 will 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.
UTIs in children often disappear completely after treatment, but your doctor may need to perform further tests if your child has repeated infections. It’s important to treat your child’s infection promptly because untreated infections can cause kidney damage or, in rare cases, a bacterial infection of the bloodstream known as sepsis.
How can I help prevent my child from getting another UTI?
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 elevated 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
Some UTIs are preventable. To lower your child’s risk:
- Encourage your child to use the bathroom when he or she has to go, rather than holding in urine.
- Teach your child how to properly wipe, front to back, after using the toilet.
- 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.
How soon will my child feel better?
With proper treatment, most kids will feel better in two to three days. Ask your doctor if an over-the-counter pain medication may help your child in the meantime.
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