Pediatric Nephrology Clinical Services : Conditions & Procedures

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect about 3 percent of children in the United States every year. Throughout childhood, the risk of a UTI is 2 percent for boys and 8 percent for girls. UTIs account for more than 1 million visits to pediatricians’ offices every year. The symptoms are not always obvious to parents, and younger children are usually unable to describe how they feel. Recognizing and treating urinary tract infections is important. Untreated UTIs can lead to serious kidney problems that could threaten the life of your child.

A urinary tract infection causes irritation of the lining of the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys, just like the inside of the nose or the throat becomes irritated with a cold. If your child is an infant or only a few years old, the signs of a urinary tract infection may not be clear, since children that young cannot tell you exactly how they feel. Your child may have a high fever, be irritable, or not eat. On the other hand, sometimes a child may have only a low-grade fever, experience nausea and vomiting, or just not seem healthy. The diaper urine may have an unusual smell. If your child has a high temperature and appears sick for more than a day without signs of a runny nose or other obvious cause for discomfort, he or she may need to be checked for a bladder infection.

An older child with bladder irritation may complain of pain in the abdomen and pelvic area. Your child may urinate often. If the kidney is infected, your child may complain of pain under the side of the rib cage, called the flank, or low back pain. Crying or complaining that it hurts to urinate and producing only a few drops of urine at a time are other signs of urinary tract infection. Your child may have difficulty controlling the urine and may leak urine into clothing or bedsheets. The urine may smell unusual or look cloudy or red. Only by consulting a health care provider can you find out for certain whether your child has a urinary tract infection.

Urinary tract infections are treated with bacteria-fighting drugs called antibiotics. While a urine sample is being examined, the health care provider may begin treatment with a drug that treats the bacteria most likely to be causing the infection. Once culture results are known, the health care provider may decide to switch your child to another antibiotic.