Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 2004;69(1):155-156

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in the kidneys, the bladder, or the urethra. 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 stored in the bladder as urine. The bladder is a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body.

How will I know my child has a UTI?

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

  • Burning feeling or pain when urinating

  • Frequent urination with only small amounts of urine

  • Fever

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Irritability or fussiness

  • Less activity

  • Stomach pain

  • Back pain

  • Wetting his or her clothes even though he or she is potty trained

  • Urine that smells bad

  • Bloody urine

What causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria (germs) getting into the bladder or the kidneys. Here are some things that may cause germs to get into the bladder or kidneys:

  • Taking bubble baths

  • Wearing tight-fitting pants

  • Holding urine for a long time

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

Some children have a condition that keeps their bladder from emptying all the way. Other children have urinary reflux—when urine from the bladder backs up into the kidneys. These children may have UTIs often.

How are UTIs treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat UTIs. In most cases, antibiotics can be given orally (by mouth). If the infection is severe, the antibiotics may be given in the hospital through a vein. To cure the infection, your child must take all of the medicine just the way the doctor says.

It is important that your child drink enough fluids every day so the urine is not concentrated. Eight to 10 child-sized glasses of water are usually enough.

Can a UTI cause serious damage to the kidneys?

Yes, sometimes a UTI can damage the kidneys. It is important to call your child's doctor right away if you think your child may have a UTI.

What if my child has UTIs again and again?

Your doctor may want to check to see if a physical problem is causing the UTIs. If so, surgery may be needed to fix the problem. Some children with bladder or kidney problems have to take medicine all the time so they will not get another UTI. This medicine is taken once a day.

How can I prevent UTIs in my child?

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

  • Avoid giving your child bubble baths.

  • Dress your child in loose-fitting pants (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 are not wiped into the vaginal area and the opening of the urethra.

  • Some children do not 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. Your doctor can show you how to do this.

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