Urinary Tract Infections: Signs, Symptoms and When to See the Doctor

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Working in the Division of Pediatric Urology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I see many kids who have experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI). Did you know UTIs are relatively common in children? It’s not just an infection you get as a teenager or adult. About eight percent of girls and two percent of boys will experience a UTI by the time they are seven years old. Kids with one or more serious UTIs, which are associated with fever, are at risk for scarring their kidneys. Kidneys that are scarred can lose the ability to function properly. In this blog post, I’ll talk about what a UTI is, the signs and symptoms and when it’s appropriate to call your child’s doctor.

Next week I’ll blog about how to prevent urinary tract infections and provide simple tips, like wearing proper clothing, teaching your child how to wipe and more.

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What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

The infection is exactly what it sounds like it would be-an infection of the urinary tract, which is usually caused by bacteria. The urinary tract is composed of:

  • The kidneys
  • The ureters (the tubes that take urine from each kidney to the bladder)
  • The bladder
  • The urethra (the tube that empties the urine from the bladder outside of the body)

A UTI can occur anywhere along this tract from the upper tract (kidneys and ureters) to the lower tract (urethra and bladder).

Signs and Symptoms of a UTI

The signs and symptoms are a bit different for an infant compared to an older child. In the urology clinic, we are most concerned when UTI symptoms include a fever and involve the upper urinary tract (kidneys and ureters).  However, your child should still see their doctor for possible treatment if they are experiencing any of these symptoms.

UTI signs and symptoms for infants or young children:

  • Fever (greater than 100.4° F or 38° C). The fever should not be associated with flu, cold or other illness. In a young infant, a fever may be the only indicator.
  • Poor feeding
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained fussiness
  • Vomiting

Signs and symptoms of a UTI in older children, which tend to be more common and can include any single or combination of the following:

  • Painful or burning feeling during urination
  • Stomach pain and vomiting
  • Urinary urgency (sometimes nothing will come out but the child still feels the need to go to the bathroom)
  • Fever (greater than 100.4° F or 38° C)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Back pain (if accompanied by a fever, vomiting, or other urinary symptoms, could suggest a kidney infection).
  • Bedwetting or daytime wetting in a child that is otherwise toilet trained
  • Foul smelling or cloudy appearing urine

When to See Your Child’s Doctor for a UTI

If your child is showing any signs and symptoms listed above, my colleagues and I recommend seeing your child’s doctor soon, especially if your child has a fever. Early intervention and treatment from your child’s doctor can prevent a serious infection from getting worse and traveling up to the kidneys or into the bloodstream. It is important to speak with your child’s doctor if your child gets infections a lot, even if the infections do not come with a fever. And if your child gets a fever and a UTI at the same time, ask your child’s doctor to do testing to rule out the possibility of there being a problem with the shape or configuration of your child’s urinary tract which may be leading to their UTIs.

Whether your child has had a UTI or never experienced one, I hope you found this helpful. As a parent, it’s important to know the signs so you can get medical care for your child. Keep an eye out for next week’s blog post about how to prevent urinary tract infections.

 

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