Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in kids are more common than you might think - especially in girls. In fact, by the time children are 8, about 8 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys have experienced a UTI. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know.
What Causes a UTI?
Urinary tract infections are usually caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract, often from the area around the genitals or rectum. Infections can happen anywhere in this tract, but are most frequently experienced near the urethra and bladder – in the lower portion of the urinary tract. Anything that allows bacteria to stay in the urinary tract can cause a UTI. These can include any of the following:
- Waiting too long to urinate: Urination helps your body flush bacteria. If your child is "holding it" for too long, it can allow bacteria to multiply.
- Constipation: Children who are constipated often have hard stools. These stools can push against the urinary tract, blocking the flow of urine, which means that bacteria isn't being properly flushed from the body.
- Not drinking enough fluids: If your child isn't drinking enough fluids, they're likely not making enough urine, which means that there won't be enough fluids when they go to the bathroom to flush the bacteria out of the urinary tract.
In infants, a condition called vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) can cause urine to reflux, or move back toward the kidneys and stay in the urinary tract. Because bacteria isn’t properly flushed, it can grow and cause an infection.
Seeing a pediatrician about your child's UTI is important. While UTIs are typically easy to treat, they can cause kidney damage such as kidney scarring, which may lead to high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease or other serious issues if left untreated for too long - and infants are at the highest risk for damage.
Symptoms and Treatment
Although it can be sometimes hard to tell what exactly is bothering your infant or child, there are some tell-tale signs of UTIs to look out for.
First, look for a fever. While fever isn’t always present with a UTI, it is common. Other signs include:
- Unexplained crying (urination with a UTI can burn and be painful)
- Urine that smells odd
- Cloudy urine, or urine that looks like it might have blood in it
- Persistent irritability
- Refusal to eat
- Increased need to urinate
- Accidents, even if they are potty trained
- Belly pain near where the bladder is located
If you notice any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your pediatrician. Depending on your child’s age, a urine sample might be obtained by urinating in a cup or insertion of a catheter. If it turns out your child has a UTI, your physician will treat it with antibiotics. Most often, these are given orally at home and the UTI will clear up within a week. In rare circumstances, a child may need to be transferred to a hospital to receive the antibiotics through an IV. This may occur when there’s an aggressive infection that’s been left untreated for too long.
Of course, the best plan of action when it comes to UTIs is to take preventive measures. Frequent diaper changes can keep harmful bacteria from spreading. Once children learn to use the restroom on their own, it’s imperative they practice good hygiene. Apart from washing hands, girls need to be taught to clean from front to back with tissue to prevent the potential spread of bacteria to their urethra. Teach them not to "hold it." Remember, urination flushes out bacteria. Avoid harsh soaps and bubble baths, and keep them in cotton underwear. They should also be encouraged to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, as this can dehydrate the body and irritate the bladder.
Is your child having frequent urinary tract infections? Ask me a question!
Dr. Ghazala Abuazza is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Cypress Clinic. She has additional fellowship training in Pediatric Nephrology (kidney disease in kids) and would be happy to see and further evaluate and help manage your child’s UTI issues. She can also address other kidney diseases that might be associated with UTI. Her clinical interests include breastfeeding, healthy eating, immunizations, allergies, asthma, eczema and skin rashes, enuresis, urinary tract infections, dysfunctional voiding syndrome and other kidney diseases.