Urinary tract infections (UTI) are common among children. They can be very uncomfortable. The good news is that many of these infections respond rapidly to treatment and cause no long-term ill effects on the urinary tract or kidneys. Urinary tract infections that are associated with a fever are more worrisome and may cause damage to the kidneys.
Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria. Often the child may not be able to dispose of urine completely and properly. Small quantities of urine that remain in the urinary tract may become infected with bacteria. Many congenital birth defects may predispose the child to UTI. Physical abnormalities should be considered as a possible cause in all children who have urinary tract infections, especially if a fever was present.
Infrequent voiding of urine also may lead to infection, allowing urine to pool longer and making conditions more likely to cause infection. Infrequent voiding also may be associated with chronic constipation.
Girls are 10 times more likely to develop a urinary tract infection than are boys. There is a 50 percent chance of recurrence for girls, higher than the recurrence rate for boys. That’s because girls have a shorter urethra (the channel from the bladder through which urine is expelled) than do boys, so it’s easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract.
In newborns, the situation is reversed. Male newborns are five times more likely to have a urinary tract infection than are female newborns. Uncircumcised infants have a higher risk for UTI than do circumcised infants.
It can be hard to tell whether an infant has a urinary tract infection. Your baby may be more lethargic, not want to eat or have difficulty eating. Additional symptoms include unexplained jaundice, failure to thrive, fever or poor weight gain. Your baby also may have diarrhea and vomiting, among other symptoms.
Changes in urinary habits also may be hard to spot in newborns. Symptoms in older children also may be invisible. But in general, watch out for:
However, these symptoms don’t always signal a urinary tract infection. Bath products, soaps and perfumed fabric softeners may cause a chemical irritation, which can cause changes in urination.
As a first step in treatment, your child’s physician will obtain a fresh urine specimen for a culture to identify the bacteria causing the infection.
Antibiotics are the most common treatment regimen for urinary tract infections. Often, the child will take the medication orally for seven to 10 days, or perhaps longer. It is important to finish all the antibiotics — even if your child seems to get better right away — unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
Your child should be encouraged to drink at least eight glasses of fluid per day, even after she has recovered. That includes water, milk and juices.
Call your doctor if your child’s fever lasts longer than 48 hours on antibiotics, if his symptoms don’t show improvement by day four of antibiotics, or he seems worse.
In preventing urinary tract infections, personal hygiene is as important for children as it is for adults. Stool contamination around the bladder opening is a common source for bacterial growth, so make sure your child wipes thoroughly after each bowel movement. Bubble baths also can irritate the urinary tract, so avoid them.
Other prevention tips:
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