UTIs in Kids: Causes and How to Prevent Them

By Tracy Wright
Little girl in pain from UTI

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in adults but can also occur in young children. Unfortunately, the effects of a UTI can be extremely painful. UTIs in kids may also be difficult to identify, and, if not treated early, can be very serious.

What is a UTI?

“The urinary tract is the organs in your body that make, store, and get rid of urine, one of the waste products of your body. Urine is made in the kidneys and travels down to the bladder through the ureters, which is the tubes that join them,” said the Urology Care Foundation. “Normal urine has no bacteria in it, and the one-way flow helps prevent infections. Still, bacteria may get into the urine through the urethra and travel up into the bladder.”

Most infections are caused by bacteria from the digestive tract like Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, said Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Signs of a UTI may be:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • A bigger urge to pee but not much may come out
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Foul smell of urine.

Cystitis is when the infection causes swelling and pain of the bladder. If the bacteria travels up from the bladder to infect the kidneys, this is called pyelonephritis, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

Causes of UTIs

Oftentimes a UTI occurs in young children because of poor toilet and hygiene habits—children may not wipe correctly when having a bowel movement and may expose bacteria to their urinary tract. This more often occurs with girls, but boys can also suffer from UTIs.

Other causes of UTIs in kids include problems in the urinary tract like a malformed kidney or a blockage, an abnormal backward flow of urine from the bladder up the ureters and toward the kidneys or a family history of UTIs, said Nemours Children’s Health.

Treating a UTI

Although UTIs are relatively easy to treat with antibiotics, it’s very important to detect and diagnose the condition early before it gets serious and spreads to the kidneys. To diagnose UTIs, doctors will ask for a urine sample and assess other symptoms. Once the antibiotics are given, parents should also encourage their child to drink plenty of fluids and urinate frequently. Usually, the symptoms will resolve within two to three days, said Nemour Children’s Health.

If a UTI has spread to the kidneys, it may be necessary to have intravenous antibiotics administered in a hospital setting. Typically a child will have a very high fever and appear to bevery ill if this happens. It’s imperative to take your child to the emergency room if you suspect a kidney infection, Nemours said.

To prevent UTIs, parents should ensure that their children are using the correct hygiene habits. Girls should be encouraged to always wipe front to back. Children should also listen to their body and not resist the urge to urinate. If your child is experiencing frequent UTIs, it is imperative that you speak to your pediatrician about potential complications like urinary obstructions.

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