About 2% of boys and 7% of girls will have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) by age 6. When detected early, this common condition is typically easy to treat. Prompt medical care can prevent the infection from worsening.
How UTIs Develop
A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the bladder, kidneys, urethra, or ureters, allowing infection to develop. The ureters are the tubes connecting the bladder to the kidneys, and the urethra is the tube that allows urine to pass from the bladder out of the body.
In children and infants, a UTI almost always starts in the bladder. If the infection moves to the kidneys, it can cause serious illness or permanent kidney damage. Frequently, children get UTIs when they are potty training, but infants and older children can also develop them.
Girls have a higher risk of developing a UTI because their urethra is generally shorter, which means the bacteria don’t have as far to travel. Boys who are not circumcised also have a slightly higher risk of UTIs than those who are circumcised. Some children are born with conditions that increase the risk of UTIs, including structural differences in the urinary tract or vesicoureteral reflux, a condition causing urine to flow backward into the body.
More common causes of UTIs are:
- Bubble baths
- Holding urine in too long
- Tight-fitting pants or underwear
- Wiping from back to front after going to the bathroom
No matter the cause, having one UTI (makes them more likely to develop another one in the future.)
Signs and Symptoms of a UTI
Infants and young children may have difficulty describing or telling you their symptoms. Knowing what to watch for can help you get your child the medical care they need.
UTI symptoms in infants may include:
- Lethargy or sluggishness
- Low interest in feeding
- Unusual urine smell
In toddlers and children, symptoms may include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Blood in the urine
- Burning or pain with urination
- Cloudy or discolored urine
- Foul or strong-smelling urine
- Frequent need to urinate
- Inability to pass urine
- Pain or pressure in the lower back or pelvis
- Potty accidents or bed wetting after a child is potty trained
- Urgency with urination
If you notice possible signs or symptoms of a UTI, it’s time to take your child to a healthcare provider. The provider will ask about their symptoms, perform a physical exam, and order a urine sample for testing. They may also order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or X-ray, to look at the function and structure of the kidneys.
If your child is diagnosed with a UTI, your pediatrician will treat it with antibiotics. The medicine is usually given in a liquid or pill form for 1 to 2 weeks. However, if the infection is severe or the child is very young, they may need to take medication longer or be hospitalized for treatment.
Symptoms of a UTI may mimic other health conditions. Testing for a UTI will help your child get treatment and feel better sooner.
Think your child may have a UTI? Find a provider near you.