As women, we all know the struggle with urinary tract infections in some shape or form. Running to the bathroom every five seconds, enduring the unspeakable pain that is peeing with a UTI, and hitting up our doctors for antibiotics are rites of passage that we are all too familiar with. It’s safe to say that we know the drill.
But what happens when our kiddos are the ones affected? Does it manifest the same way? How do we know if our pre-verbal children might have one? And the million-dollar question: How do we prevent it from happening? To answer all of your questions on UTIs in kids, we’re tapping into experts in the field: the specialists at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. If you’re looking for all the “need to knows” on pediatric urinary tract infections, look no further—we’ve got you covered.
1. How common are UTIs in children and what causes them?
As someone who dabbled in pediatric emergency nursing at Lurie Children’s, I have to admit: I severely underestimated how common UTIs are in children. Our discussion with the experts at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago solidified what I already knew: UTIs are one of the most common bacterial infections in childhood.
The experts at Lurie Children’s noted that “about 1 in 30 children will experience a UTI at some point.” And with a number that prevalent, our conversation flowed seamlessly into us tilting our heads and asking “why?” Per the experts at Lurie Children’s, UTIs are caused by bacteria in the bladder which can lead to inflammation of the bladder and/or kidneys. Specifically, children can be at risk for UTIs due to some of these common reasons:
- Anatomic problems with the bladder or kidneys
- Poor bladder emptying
- Holding the urine
2. What are some signs and symptoms of UTIs in children?
We found that the symptoms align quite well with some of the symptoms we’ve experienced as adults. Per the experts at Lurie Children’s, some of the most common signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections in children can include:
- Pain with urination
- Urinary frequency (going very often)
- Urinary urgency (not able to hold urine)
- New accidents
- Blood in the urine
- Back pain
If you notice that your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to seek medical attention for evaluation and possible treatment.
3. How are UTIs diagnosed? What can we expect at a doctor’s appointment?
When a child is experiencing symptoms that may be indicative of a UTI, the experts at Lurie Children’s recommended seeking medical attention at a pediatrician’s office, an urgent care, or an emergency room so that proper diagnosis can take place. When a child is experiencing what may be UTI symptoms, a diagnosis of a UTI can be made by obtaining a urine sample which will be sent for a urinalysis and a urine culture. The urinalysis will give insight into if the child is experiencing a urinary tract infection right away whereas the urine culture test will result in a few days which could further guide treatment.
If your child is toilet trained, the urine sample will be taken by having them pee into a cup. If your child is still in diapers, the urine sample is often obtained by using a catheter (a very small, temporary tube inserted into the bladder) to ensure that the sample is not contaminated by other organisms found in a diaper or on the child’s skin. In some circumstances, a bagged urine sample can screen for a UTI in a child but, when possible, UTI should be confirmed by a catheterized urine in a non-toilet trained child.
The experts at Lurie Children’s noted that if your child is experiencing recurrent or severe UTIs, your provider may suggest a referral to a urology specialist. At this visit, a detailed medical history will be taken, and the family may be asked to fill out a “voiding diary” about when the child pees and poops. Urologists may request X-rays to look at the amount of stool retention or an ultrasound to look at the bladder and kidneys
4. How are pediatric UTIs treated?
Since UTIs are caused by bacteria, the experts at Lurie Children’s noted that they are usually treated with antibiotics by mouth for no longer than two weeks. If the infection is severe or if the urine culture grows an unusual bacterium, a child may require antibiotics through an IV infusion. A repeat urine test should be done after treatment to ensure that the UTI has resolved in response to the antibiotic.
Additionally, your doctor may recommend other medications for symptomatic treatment such as medications for fever or pain. Your child’s doctor will take all of the information regarding test results and your child’s presentation to determine a personalized treatment plan.
5. How can I protect my child from getting a UTI?
In some cases, there are at-home practices that can help prevent your child from getting UTIs. The experts at Lurie Children’s cited that engaging in good bladder and bowel habits can set your child up for success in this department. Some examples of good bladder and bowel habits include:
- Encouraging your child to pee at least every two to three hours to avoid holding urine which can foster bacterial growth
- Ensuring your child has soft, daily bowel movements (and treating constipation if present)
- Encouraging your child to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water
As always, your doctor may have other recommendations based on your child’s specific situation. If you’re looking for more information regarding UTIs from leaders in the field, be sure to check out more information from the experts at Lurie Children’s, here.
This post was in partnership with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.