Children can get urinary tract infections (UTIs), just like adults. This condition causes the urinary tract (bladder, urethra, ureters, and/or kidneys) to become irritated and inflamed. Like adults, a child may experience burning and stinging while urinating. The challenge is, however, that your child may only be able to vaguely describe his or her discomfort—or could be too young to tell you at all.
With a UTI, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. About 8 in 100 girls and 2 in 100 boys will experience a UTI (usually affecting the bladder) before turning 5. Children with a UTI may cry when urinating or suddenly start needing to go often, but with little coming out. Their urine or diapers may have a bad odor, and they might have unexplained grumpiness or a fever.
The urinary tract is the body’s plumbing system—it drains excess waste and water from the body in the form of urine. UTIs occur when a large population of bacteria concentrates in the urine and invades the tissues of the urinary tract. (A small percentage of people can have bacteria in their urine and not have an infection.) Almost all infections originate in the bladder and travel up through the urinary tract to the kidneys.
Early treatment is important. “The longer the infection is in the bladder, the greater the likelihood that it can move up the ureters and affect the kidneys,” says Israel Franco, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric urologist. “When the infection penetrates the kidney, inflammation can lead to high fevers and renal damage. Recurrent or untreated UTI’s could also lead to kidney damage. The younger the child, the more at risk they are for damage.”