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Urinary Tract Infections in Children


Topic Overview

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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 kidneysClick here to see an illustration. 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 if your child keeps getting infections, your doctor may suggest tests to rule out more serious problems.

Urinary infections 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:

  • A fever not caused by the flu or another known illness.
  • Urine that has a strange smell.
  • Vomiting.
  • The child not being hungry.
  • The child acting fussy.

Older children are more likely to have common symptoms, such as:

  • Pain or burning when they urinate.
  • Needing to urinate often.
  • Loss of bladder control.
  • Red, pink, cloudy, or foul-smelling urine.
  • Pain in the flank, which is felt just below the rib cage and above the waist on one or both sides of the back.
  • Lower belly pain.

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, such as a urinalysis and a urine culture, to check for germs in the urine. 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

Learning about urinary tract infections:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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