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A Parent’s Guide: Recognizing UTIs in Children

By DuPage Medical Group Urology

When you become a parent you and your spouse take on many new “jobs”. From housekeeper and personal chef to director of activities; you also manage the health of your child(ren).

As an adult, you are probably familiar with urinary tract infections (UTI), as they account for 8.3 million doctor visits in the US each year. But are you aware that UTIs can also affect children? UTIs are among the most commonly diagnosed bacterial infections in children.

Learn what you need to know on how to recognize UTIs in children to learn the ropes when it comes to UTIs.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract (ureters, bladder & urethra & sometimes Kidneys) and occurs when bacteria gets into the urinary system. The body has several natural defenses built in to prevent infection, but despite these methods, infections can still occur.

Causes of UTI

While some children may only get one UTI, others may have a more frequent problem. UTIs can be caused by a few types of issues:

  • General hygiene
  • Holding and postponing urination
  • Constipation
  • Reflux of urine (where urine flows backwards)
  • Abnormal anatomy of ureters
Signs Your Child May Have a UTI

It may be difficult to tell if your child has a UTI since symptoms can be vague and younger children cannot always communicate how they are feeling. A child may not have any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they can range from mild to severe.

Signs include:

  • Pain or burning feeling upon urination
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Sudden leakage or bed wetting (when previously has been dry)
  • Pain in stomach, side or lower back
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody or foul-smelling urine
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
Diagnosing UTIs

UTIs are diagnosed through a sample of your child’s urine. Urine collection will depend on the age of your child.

  • Infants
    • In order to obtain a reliable and quick result, a thin tube called a catheter can be inserted through the urethra in your physician's office.  Sometimes your physician may elect to use a pediatric urine collection bag, which will be applied around the genitals to collect voided urine.  This relies on waiting for the child to urinate and can sometimes result in a contaminated specimen (false positive result)
  • Older Children
    • Will be given wipes to clean the genitals and given a cup to collect a mid-stream sample (usually with the help of the parent).

The urine sample will be tested in the office (a urinalysis) to determine if an infection may be present.  It will then be sent for a culture to confirm whether or not there is an actual infection.

Tip: Bring juice boxes or hydrate your child/baby before getting to your physician’s office.

UTI Treatment
  • Acetaminophen can be given to your child for pain and fever management. 
  • Generally your physician will prescribe an antibiotic only if the urinalysis is abnormal.
    • Medication will need to be taken for at least 7- 10 days or sometimes as long as a few weeks.
    • Be sure to give your child the proper amount of doses based on your physician’s instructions.
    • The infection can come back if medication is stopped too early.
  • Talk to your child’s physician after the UTI is gone, many times the physician will want to do follow-up testing, such as repeat urinalysis, urine culture, or ultrasound of the kidneys.
  • If it is determined that the cause of the UTI is from reflux or an anatomical issue, your child will need to see a urologist for follow-up care.

Topics and Subtopics: Bladder Health & Children's Health

Learn more about:
Pediatrics Urology
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