Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Your child can get a urinary tract infection when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply.

What are Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?

The urinary tract is made up of two kidneys, two ureters, the urethra, and the bladder. The kidneys filter liquid waste from the blood and send it through the ureters, which are narrow tubes, to the bladder, where it is stored.

Your child’s bladder is a hollow organ shaped like a triangle. When the bladder empties, the urine travels out of the body through the urethra.

A urinary tract infection is an infection in the urinary tract including bladder, ureters, and kidneys. They are typically diagnosed with a urinalysis and or a urine culture.

Most of the time, urinary tract infections are treated easily by your child’s doctor. However, some children have problems with their kidneys that cause them to get frequent urinary tract infections. If your child experiences multiple urinary tract infections or febrile urinary tract infections, please notify a urologist.  These symptoms are more alarming and may need further imaging.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?

Children experience urinary tract infections in different ways. The symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, so it’s important to seek medical care when your child experiences these symptoms.

The most worrisome symptoms include fever, vomiting, and flank pain. Other symptoms include painful urination, suprapubic pain, burning with urination, or changes in voiding habits. 

Symptoms in babies may include:

Symptoms in older children may include:

  • Discomfort above the pubic bone
  • Pain in the lower back or lower pelvis
  • Incontinence
  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Cloudy urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pain, burning, or difficulty with urination
  • Frequent urination, urgency to urinate, or urinating only small amounts
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite

Symptoms that may indicate that the infection has spread to the kidneys include:

  • Chills and shaking
  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe pain in the belly
  • Pain in the side or back
  • Flushed, red, or warm skin

How are Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) diagnosed?

A doctor may suspect that your child has a urinary tract infection after reviewing your child’s symptoms and performing a physical examination. Then your child’s doctor will test your child’s urine before treating the infection.

Most likely, your child’s doctor will use a urinalysis, or testing of a sample of your child’s urine to check for signs of infection, such as white blood cells. A urine sample will also be sent to a laboratory for a culture—a test to determine if bacteria or other germs are in the urine.

You may have to help or encourage your child collect the urine sample in a sterile container. If a child is very young, your child’s health care provider may collect the sample through a special removable container that seals to your child’s skin or with the use of a catheter, a thin tube inserted into your child’s urethra.

In rare cases, your child may need an ultrasound examination on his kidneys and bladder. The test is painless and noninvasive. A technologist guides a probe over the kidney from the outside, which creates high-frequency sound waves that bounce back from the kidney, forming an image on a video screen.

Once your child’s infection has gone away, doctors may need to perform tests to determine the cause of the infection or frequent infections, which might indicate a problem with the kidneys. These tests may include:

These and other tests help doctors find and better manage problems with your child’s kidneys and urinary tract that cause frequent urinary tract infections and kidney infection and disease.

What are the causes of Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?

The microorganisms that cause urinary infections are usually bacteria. Most live in the colon, sometimes attach to the urethra and enter the urinary tract. These germs then move up into the bladder and, possibly, the kidney, and start to multiply.

Although urinary tract infections are sometimes called bladder infections, they can affect any part of the urinary tract. Urinary tract infections in children typically involve the bladder.

The urinary tract is normally a sterile environment, but bacteria can enter it for a variety of reasons, including

  • A urinary tract problem called vesicoureteral reflux that causes urine to flow into the ureters and kidneys
  • Illnesses of the brain or nervous system that make it difficult to empty the bladder
  • Birth defects or changes over time in the structure of the urinary tract
  • Failure to urinate enough during the day
  • In girls, wiping from back to front, rather than from front to back, after going to the bathroom. Wiping from back to front can transmit bacteria from the anus to the urethra.

Urinary tract infections are very common in children. Because they have a shorter urinary tract, girls are more likely than boys to have the infections. Children younger than 3 to 5 years of age are less likely than older children to get urinary tract infections. These infections are also more common in children with a partial or complete blockage in the urinary tract.

How are Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) treated?

If your child has a urinary tract infection, sometimes called a bladder infection, the problem is not serious. However, you should take your child to the doctor to make sure your child gets symptom relief and that the infection doesn’t spread to your child’s kidneys.

Most urinary tract infections are treated with an antibiotic. However it's more important to prevent urinary tract infections. Things like voiding frequently, drinking plenty of water, proper hygiene, and constipation management.

Treatments for urinary tract infections may include:

  • Antibiotics to get rid of the infection
  • Medications to reduce pain
  • Non-drug methods of pain control, such as the application of a heating pad
  • Instructions to drink more fluids

Your child will probably need to return to the doctor’s office for a follow-up visit after treatment with antibiotics. You should make sure your child takes all of the antibiotics as directed and that your child continues drinking plenty of fluids and going to the restroom as soon as she feels the urge, in order to prevent future urinary tract infections.

If your child has frequent or repeated infections, your child’s doctor may recommend treating the cause of the infection or refer you to a specialist who treats childhood kidney or urinary tract disorders. For example, some children have a urinary obstruction, or blockage, that prevents urine from leaving the kidney as it should. Some of these problems require surgery to correct the abnormality.

Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) Doctors and Providers

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes urinary tract infections?

    Germs, usually E. coli, travel into the urinary tract and multiply, causing infection

  • Which part of the urinary tract is affected in urinary tract infections?

    Urinary tract infections can affect any part of the urinary tract. When they affect the urethra, the tube in which urine flows out of the body, they’re called urethritis. When they affect the bladder, which stores urine, they’re called cystitis. And when they affect the kidneys, they’re called pyelonephritis.

  • What part of the urinary tract is most often infected in children?

    Urinary tract infections in children most commonly affect the bladder

  • What are the symptoms I should look for in my child?

    Your child may complain of pain, burning, or difficulty with urination; frequent urination; urgency to urinate; or urinating only small amounts. Other symptoms may include hematuria (blood in the urine), incontinence, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, fatigue, poor appetite, pain in the lower back or lower pelvis or above the pubic bone.

  • What are the signs that an infection may have reached the kidneys?

    Signs of a more serious infection include chills and shaking, high fever, nausea, vomiting, severe pain in the belly, side, or back, and flushed, warm, or red skin.

  • How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?

    Your child’s doctor will make a diagnosis of urinary tract infection through a review of symptoms, a physical examination, a microscopic examination of a urine sample, and other urine tests.

  • How are urinary tract infections treated?

    Most likely your child’s doctor will prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection, and medication to control pain.

  • How can I help prevent my child from getting urinary tract infections?

    Some cases of infection can be prevented by discouraging your children from taking bubble baths. Girls may help prevent infections by avoiding wearing tight-fitting pants. Girls should also be instructed to wipe from front to back, rather than back to front, after using the bathroom. Wiping back to front can transfer bacteria from the anus to the urethra. It may also be helpful to encourage them to urinate frequently and to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water.

  • Do boys get urinary tract infections?

    Urinary tract infections are more common in girls, but they can occur in boys, particularly in those who have not been circumcised.