Urinary tract infections in children 

Introduction 

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

An expert talks about how urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused, the symptoms and the treatment options available. Note: Cranberry supplements may be a more reliable source of cranberry than shop bought juice

Media last reviewed: 28/08/2013

Next review due: 28/08/2015

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How to look after a sick child, including dealing with minor accidents and getting help

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection that occurs in the urinary tract (any part of the body used to make and get rid of urine).

Symptoms of a UTI in babies and infants include:

  • vomiting
  • high temperature of or above 38°C (100.4°F)
  • irritability
  • appearing lazy and sluggish (lethargic)

Symptoms of a UTI in older children include:

  • frequent passing of urine
  • complaining of pain or a burning sensation when passing urine

Read more about the symptoms of a urinary tract infection in children.

When to seek medical advice

Always contact your GP if you think your child has a UTI. This is not usually a serious type of infection but it does need to be properly diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Treatment

Most cases of UTIs can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

As a precaution, babies under three months old are usually admitted to hospital, as are children with more severe symptoms.

Many older children can be treated safely at home.

Read more about the treatment of urinary tract infections in children.

What is the urinary tract?

The urinary tract is where our bodies make and get rid of urine. It is made up of:

  • the kidneys: two bean-shaped organs that make urine out of waste materials from the blood
  • the ureters: tubes that run from the kidneys to the bladder
  • the bladder: where urine is stored until we go to the toilet
  • the urethra: the tube through which urine passes out of the body 

Causes

UTIs develop when part of the urinary tract becomes infected, usually by bacteria. Bacteria can enter the urinary system through the urethra or, more rarely, through the bloodstream.

In many cases of urinary tract infection in children, there is no apparent cause. However, several factors which increase the risk of a UTI developing include:

  • constipation, which can place pressure on the bladder, making it more vulnerable to infection
  • dysfunctional voiding: a relatively common childhood condition where a child ‘holds on’ to their urine even though they have an urge to urinate

Read more about the causes of urinary tract infections in children.

Types of urinary tract infection

There are two types of UTI:

  • A lower UTI is an infection of the lower part of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra. An infection of the bladder is called cystitis, and an infection of the urethra is known as urethritis.
  • An upper UTI is an infection of the upper part of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys and the ureters. Upper UTIs are potentially more serious  because there is a risk of kidney damage. An infection of the kidneys is known as pyelonephritis.

Who is affected

UTIs are a relatively common infection during childhood.

During the first year of life they are more common in boys then girls, but this changes as children grow older.

It is estimated that around 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 50 boys will develop a UTI at some point between their first and second birthday.

The frequency of infection drops as children grow older, but can rise in women again once they become sexually active (sexual activity is a risk factor for UTIs in adults).

Outlook

Treatment for UTIs in children is usually very effective, with symptoms cleared up quickly.

It is important to always seek prompt treatment if you think your child has a UTI (or any other type of infection), as if left untreated complications can occur, such as:

Page last reviewed: 12/06/2012

Next review due: 12/06/2014

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