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When Your Child Has a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

 A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Children often get UTIs that affect the bladder. UTIs can be uncomfortable and painful. But with treatment, most children recover with no lasting effects.

What is the urinary tract?

The following body parts make up the urinary tract:

Outline of girl's lower body showing kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Closeup of outline of boy's lower body showing bladder, urethra, and penis.
A urinary tract infection is caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract.

  • Kidneys filter waste from the blood and make urine.

  • Ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • The bladder stores urine.

  • The urethra carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

What causes a UTI?

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract through the urethra. The urinary tracts of boys and girls are slightly different. The urethra is shorter in girls. This makes it easier for bacteria to enter. As a result, girls are more likely than boys to get UTIs.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

  • If your child has a UTI affecting the bladder (cystitis), symptoms can include:

    • Painful urination

    • Frequent urination

    • Urgent need to urinate

    • Blood in the urine

    • Daytime wetting or nighttime bedwetting when previously continent

  • If your child has a UTI affecting the kidneys (pyelonephritis), symptoms are similar to those of a bladder infection. They can also include:

    • Fever

    • Belly (abdominal) pain

    • Upset stomach (nausea) and vomiting

    • Cloudy urine

    • Strong-smelling urine

How is a UTI diagnosed?

  • The healthcare provider asks about your child’s symptoms and health history. Your child is examined.

  • A lab test, such as a urinalysis, is done. For this test, a urine sample is needed. It is checked for bacteria and other signs of infection. The urine is also sent for a culture. This is a test that identifies what bacteria is growing in the urine. It can take 1 to 3 days to get results of a urine culture. If the provider thinks your child has a UTI, the provider will likely start treatment even before lab results come back.

  • If your child has severe symptoms, other tests may be done. You’ll be told more about this, if needed.

How is a UTI treated?

  • Symptoms of a UTI generally go away within 24 to 72 hours of starting treatment.

  • The healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics for your child. Make sure your child takes  all of the medicine, even if he or she starts feeling better. 

  • You can do the following at home to ease your child’s symptoms:

    • Give your child over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to manage pain and fever. Don't give ibuprofen to a baby who is younger than 6 months old, or to a child who is dehydrated or constantly vomiting. Don’t give aspirin (or medicine that contains aspirin) to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by your child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put your child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most often affects the brain and the liver.

    • Ask your provider about other medicines that can be prescribed to ease painful urination.

    • Give your child plenty of fluids to drink. Cranberry juice may help ease some pain symptoms.

  • If a urine culture was done, make sure to get the results from the healthcare provider. Make an appointment to follow up about a week after your child has finished antibiotics.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any of these:

  • Symptoms that don't improve within  48 hours of starting treatment

  • Fever, typically greater than 100.5 degrees, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • A fever that goes away but returns after starting treatment

  • Increased belly or back pain

  • Signs of fluid loss (dehydration, such as very dark or little urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth, or dizziness

  • Vomiting or inability to tolerate prescribed antibiotics

  • Child begins acting sicker

How is a UTI prevented?

  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.

  • Encourage your child to empty the bladder all the way when urinating.

  • Teach girls to wipe from the front to back when using the bathroom.

  • Don't use bubble bath.

  • Don't allow your child to become constipated.

  • If your child has a UTI, he or she may need ultrasound imaging of the kidneys and bladder. This helps the healthcare provider rule out possible anatomical problems that could cause a UTI. If problems are found, or if your child has repeated UTIs, more imaging tests may be helpful.

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