Urinary tract infections in children

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are some of the commonest bacterial infections that GPs treat. UTIs are more common in adults than in children. They can be painful and uncomfortable. But they usually pass within a few days or can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics.

Symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs)

The urinary tract is where our bodies make and get rid of urine (pee). It comprises the kidneys, and stretches out to the ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder), down to the bladder, and finally the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

Infections of the kidneys (pyelonephritis) or ureters are known as upper UTIs. Infections of the bladder (cystitis) or infections of urethra (urethritis) are known as lower UTIs.

It can be difficult to tell whether a child has a UTI, because the symptoms can be vague and young children cannot easily communicate how they feel.

Signs that your child may have an UTI can include:

  • a high temperature (fever) (greater than 38°C)
  • vomiting
  • tiredness
  • irritability
  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • needing to urinate (pee) very often
  • wetting themselves or their bed, having previously been dry
  • pain in their tummy (abdomen), side or lower back
  • unpleasant smelling urine
  • blood in their urine

Treating UTIs in children 

If your child is over three months old and are not thought to be at risk of serious illness, they can usually be treated at home with a course of antibiotics.

The length of treatment will depend on the severity of illness, and whether the lower or upper part of your child's urinary tract is infected. 

When to seek medical advice 

If you think your child is unwell and could have a UTI, contact your GP as soon as possible.

This is not normally a serious type of infection, but it should be diagnosed and treated quickly to reduce the length of time of infection and any risk of complications.

Your GP should be able to diagnose your child with a UTI by asking about their symptoms, examining them and arranging for a sample of their urine to be tested for signs of an infection.

About the urinary tract 

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

  • the kidneys – two bean-shaped organs, about the size of your fists, that make urine out of waste materials from the blood
  • the ureters – tubes that run from the kidney to the bladder
  • the bladder – where urine is stored until we go to the toilet
  • the urethra – the tube from the bladder through which urine leaves the body

Causes of urinary tract infections

Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children are caused by bacteria that normally live in the digestive system getting into the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

In young children, bacteria can enter the urethra when they wipe their bottom after going to the toilet, and soiled toilet paper comes into contact with their genitals.

Preventing UTIs in children 

It isn't possible to prevent all childhood urinary tract infections (UTIs), but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of your child getting one.

The following advice may help:

  • If possible, breastfeed your baby for the first six months after they are born – this can help improve your baby's immune system
  • Encourage your child to wipe their bottom from front to back - this will help to minimise the chances of bacteria entering the urethra (the tube through which urine passes)
  • Encourage children to go to the toilet regularly and make sure they are well hydrated - make sure they drink enough to keep their urine pale and clear during the day (speak to your pharmacist about medications that can help if constipation is a persistent problem)
  • Avoid nylon and other types of synthetic underwear, as these can help promote the growth of bacteria - loose-fitting cotton underwear should be worn instead
  • Avoid using scented soaps or bubble baths, as these can increase your child's risk of developing a UTI

 

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed May 2018

This page is due for review September 2019

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