Illness & Conditions - Health Conditions
Urinary Tract Infections in Children
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This topic is about urinary tract infections in children. For information about these infections in teens and adults, see the topic Urinary Tract Infections in Teens and Adults.
What are urinary tract infections?
The urinary tract is the part of the body that makes urine and carries it out of the body. It includes the bladder and kidneys and the tubes that connect them. When germs (called bacteria) get into the urinary tract, they can cause an infection.
How serious are the infections in children?
Urinary infections in children usually go away quickly if you treat them right away. But infections that aren't treated right away could cause permanent damage. The kidneys may not work well, which could lead to kidney failure. Infants and young children are at extra risk for kidney damage from infections.
Urinary infections also can lead to a serious infection throughout the body called sepsis. Problems from a urinary infection are more likely to happen in babies born too soon, in newborns, and in infants who have something blocking the flow of urine.
What causes the infections in children?
Germs that live in the large intestine and are in stool can get in the urethra . This is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Then germs can get into the bladder and kidneys .
What are the symptoms?
Babies and young children may not have the most common symptoms, such as pain or burning when they urinate. Also, they can't tell you what they feel. In a baby or a young child, look for:
Older children are more likely to have common symptoms, such as:
How are the infections diagnosed?
The doctor will give your child a physical exam and ask about his or her symptoms. Your child also will have lab tests to check for germs in the urine, such as a urinalysis and a urine culture . It takes 1 to 2 days to get the results of a urine culture, so many doctors will prescribe medicine to fight the infection without waiting for the results. This is because a child's symptoms and the urinalysis may be enough to show an infection.
After your child gets better, the doctor may have him or her tested to find out if there is a problem with the urinary tract. For example, urine might flow backward from the bladder into the kidneys. Problems like this can make a child more likely to get an infection in the bladder or kidneys.
How are they treated?
Your child will take antibiotics for a urinary tract infection. Give this medicine to your child as your doctor says. Do not stop it just because your child feels better. He or she needs to take all the medicine to get better. The number of days a child will need to take the medicine depends on the illness, the child's age, and the type of antibiotic.
You can help your child get better at home. Have your child drink extra fluids to flush out the germs. Remind your older child to go to the bathroom often and to empty the bladder each time.
Call the doctor if your child isn't feeling better within 2 days after starting the medicine. Your doctor may give your child a different medicine. It is important to treat urinary infections quickly in children to prevent other serious health problems. Sometimes a baby younger than 3 months may need to get medicine through a vein ( IV ) and stay in the hospital for a while. A child who is too sick to take medicine by mouth or has trouble fighting infections also may need to stay in the hospital.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract . Bacteria that normally live in the large intestine and are present in stool (feces) are the most common cause of infection. Sometimes bacteria traveling through the blood or lymphatic system to the urinary tract are the cause of kidney or bladder infections.
The ways that bacteria buildup can occur include:
Problems with the structure or function of the urinary tract commonly contribute to UTIs in infants and young children. Problems that limit the body's ability to eliminate urine completely include:
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children may not cause obvious urinary symptoms. Symptoms of a UTI in an infant or young child may include:
In an older child with a UTI, symptoms are usually easier to recognize and may include:
A doctor's evaluation can determine whether a UTI or another condition is causing your child's symptoms.
In a urinary tract infection (UTI) , bacteria usually enter the urinary tract through the urethra . They may then travel up the urinary tract and infect the bladder ( cystitis ) and the kidneys ( pyelonephritis ). Most UTIs in children clear up quickly with proper antibiotic treatment.
The biggest concern over UTIs in children is that they can cause permanent kidney damage and scarring. Repeated scarring can lead to high blood pressure and reduced kidney function, including kidney failure . Infants and young children seem to be at higher risk for this complication.
The risk of irreversible kidney damage makes early medical evaluation and treatment of UTIs in infants and young children very important. Unfortunately, detecting UTIs in infants and young children can be difficult. Unlike symptoms in older children and adults, symptoms in the very young can be vague and inconsistent.
Serious short-term complications of UTIs are unusual but do occur. They include an abscess in the urinary tract, acute kidney failure, and widespread infection (sepsis), which can be life-threatening. These complications are more likely in premature infants and newborns and in infants with urinary tract obstructions.
Infants and young children often get another UTI during the months after their first UTI. If an infection comes back (recurs), it usually happens within the same year as the first UTI.
Recurrent UTIs in a child can mean that there is a problem with the structure or function of the urinary tract. Because repeated infections increase the risk of permanent kidney damage, your child's doctor will evaluate and monitor any structural or functional problems. In some cases, your child may need surgery.
What Increases Your Risk
Risk factors (things that increase a child's risk) of urinary tract infection (UTI) include:
Infants and young children who have UTIs often have vesicoureteral reflux (VUR).
When To Call a Doctor
Urinary tract infections (UTI) in infants and young children need early evaluation and treatment. Call your doctor if your child has:
Call the doctor if your child isn't feeling better within 48 hours after starting an antibiotic .
Watchful waiting is not appropriate if you suspect your child has a urinary tract infection. Untreated UTIs in children can lead to permanent kidney damage, high blood pressure , and other serious complications.
Who to see
The following health professionals can treat UTIs in children:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
Exams and Tests
If your child has symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) , the doctor's first evaluation will probably include:
If the doctor suspects that your child has a UTI, a urinalysis will help point to a diagnosis. A urine culture can confirm the diagnosis and identify what is causing the infection. But the results usually are not available for a couple of days. Rather than delay treatment to wait for the results of the urine culture, the doctor probably will start your child on antibiotics if your child's symptoms, history, and urinalysis show that a UTI is likely.
A urine sample will be collected.
The doctor may do other tests if your child has a UTI and:
Tests after a child's first UTI
Some doctors recommend tests to check the urinary tract after the first UTI in an infant or young child. But these tests may not be able to help a doctor decide what treatment is needed.
The most common tests after an infant's or young child's first UTI are:
The purpose of doing these tests after treatment for your child's UTI is to reduce the risk of future kidney damage and related problems, such as high blood pressure and kidney failure. These tests can identify vesicoureteral reflux, abnormalities of the urinary tract , and other conditions that may make your child more prone to kidney infections. If the tests find any of these conditions, the doctor can watch and give preventive treatment, if needed, to your child. The doctor will do these tests at the earliest convenient time after your child's UTI improves.
The doctor may do a kidney scan (renal scintigram) to evaluate persistent kidney infection or to evaluate kidney scarring or damage caused by previous infection.
During the year after your child's first UTI, the doctor may do periodic urine cultures to screen for UTI infections. But doctors do not agree on how effective follow-up urine cultures are.
Antibiotic medicine and home care are effective in treating most urinary tract infections (UTIs) in infants and children. The main goal of treatment is to prevent kidney damage and its short- and long-term complications by eliminating the infection quickly and completely. Early evaluation and treatment are very important. Do not delay calling a doctor if you think your baby or young child may have a UTI.
Infants and young children with urinary tract infections (UTIs) need early treatment to prevent kidney damage. Your doctor is likely to base the first treatment decision on your child's symptoms and urinalysis results rather than waiting for the results of a urine culture.
Treatment for most children with UTIs is oral antibiotics and home care. If your child is younger than 3 months, is too nauseated or sick to take oral medicines, or has an impaired immune system , a brief hospital stay and a short course of intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be needed. After your child's fever and other symptoms improve and he or she is feeling better, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. The number of days a child will need to take these medicines depends on the illness, the child's age, and the type of antibiotic.
Treatment if the condition gets worse or recurs
If your child's urinary tract infection (UTI) does not improve after treatment with antibiotics, he or she needs further evaluation and may need more antibiotics. Your child may have a structural problem that is making the infection hard to treat. Or the cause of the infection may be different from the types of bacteria that usually cause UTIs.
If the infection spreads and affects kidney function or causes widespread infection (sepsis), your child may be hospitalized. These complications are rare, but they can be very serious. Children with impaired immune systems, untreated urinary tract obstructions, and other conditions that affect the kidneys or bladder are at higher risk for complications.
Recurrent UTIs increase the risk of long-term kidney damage and high blood pressure . The doctor may prescribe preventive antibiotic therapy after treatment for a first UTI if your child has a structural problem, such as vesicoureteral reflux, that increases the risk of repeat infections, or if your child has more than two UTIs in a 6-month period. Doctors disagree about whether long-term use of low-dose antibiotics can safely prevent UTIs in children. Antibiotic resistance is one concern.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are hard to prevent in children who seem to get them easily. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent repeat infection while waiting for test results after your child's first UTI. If test results show abnormalities of the urinary tract that raise the risk for repeat infections, the doctor may recommend long-term antibiotic treatment.
After learning to use the toilet, some children may not empty their bladders often enough. Without regular bladder emptying, which flushes out the germs in urine, children may be more likely to get a UTI. Encourage a schedule of bladder emptying to help lower this risk. Offer your child drinks (such as water) throughout the day. Drinking enough fluids fills the bladder and can help your child empty the bladder more often.
Constipation can also put a child at risk of a UTI. Regular toileting habits and a nonconstipating diet are the best ways to prevent constipation. For more information, see the topics Constipation, Age 11 and Younger and Constipation, Age 12 and Older.
Early diagnosis and early treatment are the most important steps in preventing UTI-caused kidney damage. Periodic urine cultures during the first year after a child's first UTI and for children at risk for recurrent UTIs can help detect infections before they do serious damage.
Starting home treatment at the first signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI) in your child may prevent the problem from getting worse and help clear up your child's infection.
Note: Remember that home treatment is not a substitute for professional care and evaluation. If you think your child may have a UTI, a doctor should see him or her right away.
Oral antibiotic medicine usually is effective in treating urinary tract infections (UTIs) . In many cases, if the symptoms and urinalysis suggest a UTI, the doctor will start medicine without waiting for the results of a urine culture.
The doctor may give intravenous (IV) antibiotics if your baby is:
The doctor will stop the IV medicine and begin oral medicine treatment after your child is stabilized and feeling better.
To prevent kidney damage that can result from recurrent infection, the doctor may prescribe long-term treatment with antibiotics for children who are at risk for repeat infections. The doctor may consider preventive antibiotics:
Preventive treatment may last from several months to several years. Experts disagree about the best approach. Some doctors believe that long-term use of low-dose antibiotics can safely prevent UTIs in children, especially in children who have vesicoureteral reflux. 3 Whether long-term antibiotics prevent kidney damage needs more study. Some doctors are more hesitant about prescribing antibiotics for long-term use because of increasing concern about the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria .
Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause UTIs.
What to think about
Give your child the antibiotics as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of medicine. Your child may begin to feel better soon after starting the medicine. But if you stop giving your child the medicine too soon, the infection may return or get worse. Also, not taking the full course of medicine encourages the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. This makes antibiotics less effective and future bacterial infections harder to treat.
Surgery is not used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children.
If there is a problem with the structure of the urinary tract that is causing frequent, severe infections and increasing the child's risk of long-term complications, the doctor may consider surgery to correct the problem. For instance, children with severe vesicoureteral reflux may benefit from surgery. For more information, see the topic Vesicoureteral Reflux (VUR).
There is no other treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children at this time.
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: March 10, 2011
Shortliffe LMD (2012). Infection and inflammation of the pediatric genitourinary tract. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 10th ed., vol. 4, pp. 3085–3122. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Elder JS (2011). Urinary tract infections. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1829–1834. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Craig JC, et al. (2009). Antibiotic prophylaxis and recurrent urinary tract infection in children. New England Journal of Medicine, 361(18): 1748–1759.
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