Pediatric Urinary Tract Infections

A small wooden toy penguin on wheels.

Urinary tract infections are common in children. They are usually minor and easily treated. Other times, they are linked to a more serious condition. At OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, our urologists can treat your child’s infection and any related conditions.

You’ll find:

  • Pediatric urology specialists who treat hundreds of patients a year.
  • Highly trained doctors with expertise in diagnosing and treating the causes of infections.
  • State-of-the-art diagnostic tools.

Understanding urinary tract infections

What are urinary tract infections?

A diagram depicting kidneys with a urinary tract infection.

Normal urine has no germs. An infection can happen when germs, often from the digestive tract, cling to the opening where urine leaves the body. They can travel up the urethra (the tube that carries urine) into the bladder and multiply. Some infections can reach the kidneys. Regular urinating helps keep the urinary tract sterile by flushing away germs.

Why treatment is important: Urinary tract infections rarely cause serious problems if they’re treated right away. If they’re not treated, they can lead to frequent infections, permanent kidney damage or sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication.

Repeat infections: Urinary tract problems that prevent regular urination can lead to repeated infections. Doernbecher’s urologists have advanced training so they can find and treat these underlying issues.

The most common causes of persistent infections are:

  • Dysfunctional voiding: The bladder doesn’t empty normally or regularly. This can take many forms, and causes can be physical or psychological. Examples include urinating uncontrollably or holding urine when the bladder is full.
  • Urinary tract obstruction: Urine flow is partly or fully blocked, often by an abnormality such as a birth defect.
  • Vesicoureteral reflux: Urine flows backward from the bladder into the tubes leading to the kidneys.

Who gets urinary tract infections?

By age 5, about 8% of girls and 2% of boys will have had a urinary tract infection, the American Urology Association reports. Children who are more likely to develop an infection include:

  • Girls, because their urethra is shorter.
  • Uncircumcised boys.
  • Children who have severe constipation or frequently delay trips to the bathroom.

Signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections

Signs in babies include fever and foul-smelling urine. If your baby develops these, it’s a good idea to take your baby to your pediatrician for a urine check.

  • Blood in the urine
  • Chills
  • Discomfort above the pubic bone
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Incontinence
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the back or side below the ribs
  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Small amount of pee while urinating despite a feeling of urgency
  • Urgency to urinate

Diagnosing urinary tract infections

A diagram showing the anatomy of a child's urinary system.
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2020 Nucleus Medical Media. All rights reserved.

Exam: Your child's doctor may diagnose a urinary tract infection based on symptoms and a physical exam.

Tests: Lab tests to confirm a diagnosis may include a urinalysis, which looks for signs of infection. This can be gathered in a cup if your child has urinary control. A thin flexible tube called a catheter may be inserted in your child’s urethra if your child can’t urinate on request. If your child is in diapers, we may put a small adhesive collection bag over the genital area.

If your child has persistent infections, our specialists can use advanced equipment to find a cause. This may include:

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to make computer images of the inside of the body. We are one of the few Northwest children’s hospitals with an MRI designed to scan the urinary tract.

Uroflow test: Your child urinates into a portable toilet connected to a computer.

Ultrasound: Sound waves create images of the urinary tract.

Video urodynamics: Pressure testing, electrodes and a real-time X-ray machine check the urinary system from all angles.

Voiding cystourethrogram: Contrast dye and X-rays show how the urinary system is working.

Learn more about our urology tests.

Treating urinary tract infections

Our pediatric urologists and nurse practitioners treat more than 500 children a year for urinary tract infections. Our expertise in diagnosing and treating underlying causes attracts patients from around the region.

Urinary tract infections are most often treated with antibiotics, usually in pills or liquids. While your child is on antibiotics, make sure you:

  • Give your child the antibiotics on the schedule prescribed.
  • Track how often your child goes to the bathroom.
  • Check your child’s symptoms, such as pain when peeing.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids.

Treatment typically lasts about a week. Your child may then have a urine test to make sure the infection is gone. The length of treatment may depend on:

  • The infection’s severity.
  • Whether it has disappeared.
  • How often your child has had infections.

We also might recommend:

  • Having your child empty the bladder regularly throughout the day.
  • Taking steps to manage constipation.
  • Giving your child antibiotics to prevent infection.

Reducing the risk of urinary tract infections

You may not be able to prevent your child from getting a urinary tract infection, but there are ways to reduce risk. These include:

Plenty of fluids: Have your child drink water or other fluids throughout the day. This is especially important when activities cause your child to sweat. Avoid drinks with caffeine, such as soda or tea. Cranberry juice can’t hurt, but research is inconclusive about whether it helps prevent urinary tract infections.

Good hygiene: Teach your daughter to wipe herself from front to back after peeing or bowel movements. Boys and girls should be taught to keep their genital areas clean. Avoid frequent bubble baths, which may irritate the urethra opening. If your child is in diapers, change diapers frequently, and thoroughly clean the genital area.

Regular bathroom use: Make sure your child’s urination and bowel movements are regular. Talk to your child’s doctor right away about incontinence or constipation.

The right clothes: Try to get your child to avoid wearing tight jeans, small shorts and other restrictive bottoms. Have your child wear cotton underwear, which is less likely  to encourage germ growth than synthetic fabric.

Learn more

For families

Call 503-346-0640 to:

  • Request an appointment.
  • Seek a second opinion.
  • Ask questions.


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Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
700 S.W. Campus Drive
Portland, OR 97239
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We also offer locations in Eugene and Salem.

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