Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in kids. By the time they're 5 years old, about 8% of girls and about 1-2% of boys have had at least one.
In older kids, UTIs may cause obvious symptoms such as burning or pain with urination (peeing). In infants and young children, UTIs may be harder to detect because symptoms are less specific. In fact, fever is sometimes the only sign.
Most UTIs are caused when bacteria infect the urinary tract, which is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Each plays a role in removing liquid waste from the body. The kidneys filter the blood and produce urine; the ureters carry the urine from the kidneys to the bladder; and the bladder stores the urine until it is eliminated from the body through the urethra.
An infection can occur anywhere along this tract, but the lower part — the urethra and bladder — is most commonly involved. This is called cystitis. If the infection travels up the ureters to the kidneys, it's called pyelonephritis and is usually more serious.
Although bacteria aren't normally found in the urine, they can easily enter the urinary tract from the skin around the anus (the intestinal bacteria E. coli is the most frequent cause of UTIs). Many other bacteria, and some viruses, can also cause infection. Rarely, bacteria can reach the bladder or kidneys through the blood. Bacterial UTIs are not contagious.
UTIs occur much more frequently in girls, particularly those around the age of toilet teaching, because a girl's urethra is shorter and closer to the anus. Uncircumcised boys younger than 1 year also have a slightly higher risk of developing a UTI.
Other risk factors for developing a UTI include:
- an abnormality in the structure or function of the urinary tract (for example, a malformed kidney or a blockage somewhere along the tract of normal urine flow)
- an abnormal backward flow (reflux) of urine from the bladder up the ureters and toward the kidneys. This condition, known as vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), is present at birth, and about 30% to 50% of children with a UTI are found to have it.
- poor toilet and hygiene habits
- the use of bubble baths or soaps that irritate the urethra
- family history of UTIs
UTIs are highly treatable, but it's important to catch them early. Undiagnosed or untreated UTIs can lead to kidney damage, especially in kids younger than 6.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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