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December 2, 2019 | Family Medicine
If your child is complaining of stomach pains, uses the bathroom frequently, or even wets the bed (despite being potty-trained), you might suspect a urinary tract infection (UTI). All children, from babies to teens, can get UTIs, but younger children face the highest risk of serious complications.
Like adults, children can get UTIs when bacteria enter the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body).
Infant boys are more likely to develop a UTI than infant girls. After infancy, however, girls have a higher risk of UTI because their shorter urethras make it easier for bacteria to move through the urinary tract. Uncircumcised boys may also face an increased risk of urinary infection.
Other possible causes of pediatric UTI include abnormalities in the urinary tract structure and conditions that block the normal passage of urine, including chronic constipation.
Teenagers, young children, and babies may have different symptoms. For example, you may notice that your baby is unusually fussy, lethargic, or lacking in appetite. They may vomit, experience diarrhea, and run a fever. Children and teens, however, may complain of abdominal or back pain and pain or burning sensations when urinating. The likely reason behind this difference in symptoms is that children and teens are better able to communicate their symptoms and can seek help before more severe symptoms occur.
Other symptoms of UTIs in children include an unwillingness to urinate, wetting (daytime or nighttime), and increased frequency or urgency in urination.
Contact a doctor immediately if your child cannot pass urine, has blood in the urine, or experiences abdominal swelling.
The most common way that doctors diagnose pediatric UTIs is through urine testing.
This test identifies the presence of bacteria and white blood cells in the urine, which are indicators of a UTI. If your child is toilet trained, the doctor will ask him or her to urinate in a sample cup. For infants and young children, the doctor may need to use a catheter to obtain a urine sample. If a urine test is not conclusive, or if your doctor wants to check for kidney infection, he or she may order blood tests.
In some cases, your doctor might also request imaging tests of the urinary system to check for any abnormalities, especially if your child experiences recurring UTIs.
In most cases, your doctor will treat a pediatric UTI with an appropriate course of antibiotics. Infants may receive antibiotic injections, whereas older children may be prescribed a course of oral antibiotics, typically for 7 to 14 days.
In the rare case that the doctor identifies structural abnormalities in the urinary system, surgery may be required to correct those issues.
The following steps can help prevent UTIs in children:
If you suspect your child may have a urinary tract infection, contact your family doctor to schedule an appointment.
“Prevent Urinary Tract Infections in Children.” HealthyChildren.org
“Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Children.” Merck Manual.
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.