Common Questions About Urinary Tract Infections in Children

Urinary Tract Infections (commonly known as UTIs) are one of the most common bacterial infections in children. Read more below, where Lurie Children’s urology specialists weigh in on common causes of UTIs — and when recurring infections should mean a trip to a pediatric urologist. 

Families can make an appointment with the Lurie Children’s nationally ranked Division of Urology by filling out an online Appointment Request Form, contacting 1.800.KIDS DOC (1.800.543.7362) or, for existing Lurie Children's or Town and Country Pediatrics patients, logging in to MyChart to schedule your own new or return appointment for some specialties. 

How common are UTIs in children, and what causes them?

About 1 in 30 children will experience a UTI at some point. 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
  • Constipation

What are some signs and symptoms of UTIs in children?

Common signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections in kids often differ from the typical adult symptoms of UTIs. Symptoms of UTI in children can include:   

  • Fever 
  • 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, seek medical attention for evaluation and possible treatment. 

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, it’s best to see a pediatrician or visit urgent care, or an emergency room if the child has a high fever. 

UTIs are diagnosed 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. 

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   

How are pediatric UTIs treated?

Since UTIs are caused by bacteria, 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 may 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.   

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. Engaging in good bladder and bowel habits can set your child up for success. 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.  

The Division of Urology at Lurie Children’s, ranked 6th in the nation by U.S.News & World Report, is the largest pediatric urology department in the region with more than 18,000 pediatric visits each year for both common and complex conditions. Our doctors can see your child for any urologic condition, from urinary tract infections and bedwetting to bladder reconstruction.  

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