UTI In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Home Remedies

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The urinary tract comprises the kidneys, ureters and the bladder. They work in unison to remove the waste and extra fluids out of our body in the form of urine.

But sometimes, the process may not be smooth due to an infection of the urinary tract.

Urinary tract infection or UTI is common in adults but do children get it? How do you know if the child has UTI and what can you do about it? MomJunction tells you all that and more in this post. Keep reading.

What is UTI?

UTI is the “microbial invasion” of any parts of the urinary system (1).

The bacteria that thrive inside the urethra get flushed out through urine. But sometimes, when they are not expelled, it results in an infection in the urinary tract.

About 80% of the cases are caused by Escherichia coli (E.Coli) (2) and the rest by other species including Klebsiella and Staphylococcus.

The urinary tract infection mostly occurs in the bladder, but it may affect the kidneys too.

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[ Read: E. Coli In Children ]

Types of UTI

UTI is classified based on the area of infection:

  • Upper UTI when the infection is in the kidneys or the ureters; the kidney infection leads to pyelonephritis.
  • Lower UTI when the bladder or urethra is infected; the bladder infection results in cystitis.

The infection is more common in girls than in boys since their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus. Let’s see why the infection can happen in children, especially in girls.

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Causes Of Urinary Tract Infection In Children

A child can contract urinary tract infection due to one or several of the below reasons:

  • The bacteria that usually stay in the digestive system enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract.
  • While cleaning the bottom, a kid’s soiled toilet paper may come in contact with the genitals, leading to the entry of bacteria and a subsequent infection.
  • Therefore, a girl is more prone to develop this condition as her anus is closer to her genitals, through which the infection can sneak into the urinary system.
  • Wiping the anus from back to the front; this passes the bacteria present on the surface of the anus to the genitals, especially in girls.

Some children are more prone to developing UTI due to other health concerns such as:

  • Constipation sometimes causes inflammation of the large intestine. As a result, it puts pressure on the urinary bladder and prevents it from emptying completely (3).
  • Dysfunctional elimination syndrome is a group of conditions pertaining to issues with urination and defecation. DES causes UTI because the children having this condition urinate infrequently (4).
  • Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) is an uncommon condition where the urine flows backward from the bladder to the kidneys, leading to kidney infections. This is interrelated to UTI (5).

As mentioned above, girls are at a higher risk than boys. However, there are other risk factors too.

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[ Read: Symptoms Of Abdominal Pain In Kids ]

Risk Factors Leading To UTI

Below are some factors that increase the risk of your child contracting the infection

  • Congenital abnormalities of the kidney and urinary tract such as renal agenesis in which one or both the kidneys fail to develop.
  • Uncircumcised male infants have a higher risk in the first six months as bacterial colonization occurs in the foreskin. But the colonization reduces as the child grows (6).
  • Unhealthy toilet habits such as controlling their urge to urinate make children vulnerable to UTI (7).
  • Also, children who have poor toilet hygiene practices, such as not washing their hands before and after using the toilet and keeping the toilets unclean, spread the infection.
  • Children with a weakened immune system are susceptible to viruses and bacteria.

If your child is complaining of burning sensation or pain while urinating, look out for the other symptoms of UTI.

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Symptoms Of UTI In Children

It is difficult to identify UTI in young children as the symptoms are mostly non-specific such as (8)

  • Vomiting
  • Low fever (101oF)
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Poor weight gain
  • Eating meagerly

Older children can express their problem, and here are the symptoms they might have (9):

  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Waking from sleep to urinate
  • Cloudy urine
  • Pain while urinating (dysuria)
  • Stomach ache
  • Odor in the urine
  • Wetting the pants in spite of being toilet-trained
  • Red or dark colored urine is a sign of blood in the urine
  • Bladder feels full even after urinating

If the infection spreads to the kidneys, the symptoms will include:

  • Fever with shaking
  • Reddened skin in the genitals
  • Vomiting
  • Flank pain
  • Severe abdominal pain or discomfort above the pubic bone
  • Pain in the back or side below the ribs

Call the doctor if your child has a combination of the above symptoms. The doctor will diagnose the problem and begin the treatment.

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[ Read: Constipation In Children ]

Diagnosis Of UTI In Children

The doctor will begin with generic diagnosis by asking about the child’s general health condition and symptoms.

  • A physical examination is done to check for genital abnormalities such as phimosis in boys and vulvovaginitis in girls.
  • Then, they would suggest a urine test. The urine sample will be taken for lab analysis to check for the presence of the bacteria.

A urine culture helps identify the species of bacteria that is causing the infection.

If the child has recurrent UTI episodes, then the doctor may suggest some more tests to check if it’s happening because of an anatomical defect. In such cases, diagnosis methods include:

  • Cystoscopy: The doctor sees inside the bladder and urethra using a camera lens (10).
  • Urodynamics: It determines the storing and releasing function of the bladder, such as how much urine can the bladder hold, the speed of discharging the urine, etc., (11).
  • Renal/ bladder ultrasound: Renal ultrasound helps to understand the kidney size, shape, and location.
  • VCUG (voiding cystourethrogram): It helps in understanding the complete bladder, if it empties without obstruction or there is reflux of urine.
  • IVP or intravenous pyelogram: The x-ray test helps diagnose blood in urine or any pain in the lower abdominal tract.

The imaging tests need to be sparingly used considering the costs involved and the adverse effects such as radiation. They are done only if the UTI is recurrent or complicated.

Once the tests confirm UTI, the doctor will begin the antibiotic treatment.

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Treatment For UTI In Children

The doctor may recommend the following treatments for your child:

  • UTI is usually treated with antibiotics.
  • The antibiotic treatment depends on the results of the urine culture test, and the kind of bacteria.
  • Oral antibiotics work well when there is an infection in the bladder.
  • If there’s a serious condition, such as an inflammation of the kidneys or pyelonephritis, then intravenous antibiotic treatment is recommended. For that, hospitalization may be needed.
  • Doctors may also give medicines for pain relief.

Some antibiotic medicines given to children are (12):

  • Trimethoprim or sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim/ Septra)
  • Amoxicillin or clavulanate (Augmentin)
  • Cefixime (Suprax)
  • Cefpodoxime
  • Cefprozil (Cefzil)
  • Cephalexin (Keflex)

[ Read: Frequent Urination in Children ]

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Homeopathic treatment for UTI

You may also try alternative treatments such as homeopathy if the UTI is recurrent and the antibiotics are not effective. Homeopathic treatments aim at a long-term and overall recovery of the patient.

Depending on a patient’s symptoms, the homeopathic practitioner may recommend phosphorus, colibacillinum, platinum metallicum, candida albicans, causticum, cantharis and eupatropium (13).

Do not start the medicines without consulting a specialist.

In addition to the medications, you may support the treatment with some home care and remedies.

Home Remedies For UTI

Here are some UTI home remedies you may try for your child:

  1. Increased fluid intake: Drinking water throughout the day will flush out the bacteria through urine.
  1. Probiotics (good bacteria): Give your child probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
  1. Unsweetened cranberry or blueberry juice: While there is no evidence of cranberry’s usefulness in the treatment of UTI, it may be used as a preventative strategy (14).
  1. Allicin: The oily liquid present in garlic has strong antibacterial qualities, especially against E.coli (15).
  1. D-mannose: D-mannose powder can help in preventing recurrent urinary tract infections, especially in girls (16).
  1. Vitamin C: Vitamin C makes the urine more acidic, which prevents the growth of E. coli bacteria.
  1. Clove oil: The essential oil has antibacterial and antifungal qualities, and promotes healing.
  1. Oregano oil: Its antibacterial properties inhibit the growth of E.coli.

You may also try cinnamon, Echinacea, marshmallow root, dandelion, and blueberries (17).

Note that these home remedies may be taken along with antibiotic treatment but not as its replacement. However, the best way to deal with UTI is to prevent it.

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How To Prevent UTI In Children?

Here is how you can avoid your child contracting UTI (18), (19):

  1. Teach your girl child to wipe herself from front to back. This will reduce the chances of anal bacteria entering the urethra and infecting it.
  1. Make them drink enough water to flush the bacteria out of the urinary system.
  1. Encourage them to urinate often and not hold it back.
  1. Maintain good hygiene and keep the genital area clean and dry.
  1. Avoid nylon underwear as they promote bacterial growth. Instead, use loose cotton underwear for your children.
  1. Avoid using perfumed products, scents or powder in the genital areas.
  1. Add yogurt to your kid’s diet as it is a probiotic.
  1. Say no to bubble baths.
  1. Avoid giving your child any caffeinated drinks, which can cause bladder irritation

Good toilet habits and hygiene can prevent UTI significantly. And prevention is necessary if you want to avoid the complications, though rare.

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Complications Of UTI In Children

Below are a few complications arising from UTI:

  • The bacteria may ascend to the kidneys and spread the infection, eventually causing kidney damage.
  • If the infection spreads to the blood from the kidneys, it can lead to blood poisoning.
  • Reduced functioning of kidneys.
  • Hydronephrosis or inflammation of the kidneys.
  • Sepsis, a serious infection that may cause multiple organ failure (20).

Note that the complications are uncommon and occur in the extreme cases of infection.

Next, we will answer some more commonly asked questions on UTI in children.

[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is recurrent UTI in children and how to manage?

Very few children have a recurring UTI. However, if a child has had UTI before, it is necessary to keep an eye on any symptoms. Whenever, the symptoms return, consult the doctor immediately.

If your child has a health problem that may increase the risk of UTI, such as structural abnormality of the urinary tract, the healthcare provider may give antibiotics in low dose as a long-term preventive measure for recurrent breakouts.

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2. Is UTI in children contagious?

Urinary tract infection is not contagious. It does not spread by touch or physical proximity. It also does not spread from sitting on a toilet seat that is contaminated.

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3. How long do UTIs in children last?

The child can get relief within two to three days after the treatment begins.

UTI is one of the most common infections in children. However, they recover from it within a few days and get back to normal life. Check on the child’s symptoms and take them to a doctor to control the infection before it spreads. A little care will go a long way.

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Do you have an experience to share? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Dr. Atiqur Rahman Khan

Dr. Atiqur Rahman Khan is an experienced senior neonatologist and pediatrician with over 20 years of experience. He has been working under the Ministry of Health at Maternity and Children’s Hospital Saudi Arabia for more than 15 years. Having completed his undergraduation from Sri Devaraj Urs Medical College, Dr. Khan went on to do his post graduation from Yerevan State... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more