Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(7):1583-1584

See related article on urinary tract infections.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, the bladder and the urethra. The bladder is a balloon-shaped organ that stores the urine. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that lie against the spine in the lower back. Blood flows through the kidneys. Waste products from the blood are removed in the kidneys and leave the body in the urine. High numbers of bacteria are found in the urine of children who have a UTI.

How will I know if my child has a UTI?

Your child may have a UTI if he or she has one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Complains of burning or pain when urinating

  • Is urinating frequently but with only small amounts of urine

  • Has a fever

  • Has diarrhea

  • Is vomiting

  • Is irritable or fussy

  • Is less active

  • Complains of pain in the tummy

  • Has urine that smells bad

  • Has bloody urine

  • Starts having “accidents” again even though he or she has been potty trained

  • Complains of back pain

What causes a UTI?

UTIs are caused by germs getting into the bladder or the kidneys. The following things can sometimes cause germs to get into the bladder or kidney:

  • Having bubble baths

  • Wearing tight-fitting clothing

  • Holding urine for a long time

  • Girls wiping from “back to front” instead of “front to back” after a bowel movement

Some children have a condition that keeps their bladder from emptying all the way. These children may have UTIs often.

How is a UTI treated?

Some children who have a UTI have to take medicine. Antibiotics are used to treat UTI. The antibiotics may be given through the vein if the infection is severe. In these cases, treatment may be given in the hospital. If the infection isn't that severe, the antibiotics may be given orally. It's important that the whole course of treatment be completed.

If the cause of the UTI is anatomical (a physical problem), the child could have surgery to fix the problem. It's important to drink enough fluids every day so the urine isn't concentrated.

Can a UTI cause serious damage to the kidneys?

Yes, a UTI can sometimes damage the kidneys. It's important to contact your child's doctor right away if you believe he or she may have a UTI. Your doctor may order some tests to look for any problems with the bladder or kidneys.

If my child has had several UTIs, what can I do to prevent them in the future?

Some children with bladder or kidney problems have to take medicine all the time so they won't get another UTI. This medicine is taken once a day. Medicine that is taken to treat a UTI is only taken for a few days or two weeks.

What else can be done to prevent UTIs?

Here are some things that may help prevent UTI in your child:

  • Avoid giving your child bubble baths.

  • Dress your child in loose-fitting clothing (including underpants).

  • If you have a girl, teach her to wipe from front to back after she uses the bathroom so that germs from the rectum aren't wiped into the vagina.

  • Some children “hold” their urine. They don't go to the bathroom often enough. If your child does this, teach him or her to go to the bathroom several times each day.

  • If you have an uncircumcised boy, teach him how to wash the foreskin on his penis regularly.

What do I do if I think my child has a UTI?

If you think your child has a UTI, call your doctor right away.

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