Conditions & Treatments

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections describe a health problem that results from a bacterial infection along the urinary tract.

Urinary Tract Infections

What are urinary tract infections (UTIs)?

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria along the urinary tract. The urinary tract is made up of  2 kidneys that remove liquid waste from the blood in the form of urine. Narrow tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder. When the bladder is emptied, the urine travels through a tube called the urethra and passes outside the body.

Who is affected by urinary tract infections?

UTIs are uncommon in children younger than age 5, and unlikely in boys at any age, unless an obstruction is present. They are much more common in girls as a result of a shorter urinary tract. Uncircumcised males are more likely to develop UTIs than circumcised males. Children with a complete or partial blockage in the urinary tract are more likely to develop UTIs.

What causes a urinary tract infection?

Normal urine is sterile and contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It is free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. An infection occurs when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra, travel up into the bladder and/or kidney, and begin to multiply.

Most infections arise from Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which normally live in the colon.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

The following are the most common symptoms of a UTI. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

In babies:

  • Fever

  • Abdominal pain

  • Abdominal fullness

  • Foul-smelling urine

  • Poor growth

  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight

  • Irritability

  • Vomiting

  • Poor feeding

  • Diarrhea

Older children:

  • Urgency to urinate

  • Incontinence during day and/or night

  • Frequent urination

  • Painful or difficult urination

  • Discomfort above the pubic bone

  • Blood in the urine

  • Foul-smelling urine

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Pain in the back or side below the ribs

  • Fatigue

  • Small amount of urine while voiding despite feeling of urgency

The symptoms of a UTI may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

How are UTIs diagnosed?

Your child's health care provider may diagnose a urinary tract infection based on physical exam and a description of symptoms. Other tests may include a urinalysis (a lab test of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein) and culture that will detect the presence of an infection.

A boy with a UTI or girls younger than age 5 or 6 may require further testing with a kidney ultrasound. This is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

A voiding cystourethrography may also be needed in some children to evaluate the bladder and urethra and to detect reflux (in which urine backs up to the kidneys instead of flowing out through the urethra).

What is the treatment for a UTI?

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics

  • A heating pad or medications (to relieve pain)

  • Increased fluid intake (especially water)

Your child's health care provider may ask you to bring your child back into the office a few days after treatment starts to reevaluate your child.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Adult Medicine Imaging
    The Adult Medicine Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers a wide range of diagnostic exams and minimally invasive, image-guided treatments, all provided using leading-edge equipment and interpreted by specialty-trained radiologists.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Urology
    The Pediatric Urology Service at MassGeneral Hospital for Children provides care ranging from simple circumcisions to the most complex of urinary and genital anomalies in children from birth to young adulthood.
  • Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine
    The Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children provides outstanding primary care and consultative care to adolescents and young adults.
Department of Urology

  • Geriatric Urology Program
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Geriatric Urology Program specializes in the innovative diagnosis, treatment and management of urological conditions experienced by patients age 60 and older.
  • General Urology
    The physicians in the Massachusetts General Hospital General Urology Program evaluate patients for urological diseases and common disorders, and provide outstanding care to patients diagnosed with urological conditions.
Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Midlife Women's Health Center
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center brings together experts from more than 15 specialties to improve, promote and advance health care for women at menopause and beyond through research, collaboration and education.
  • Benign Gynecology Program
    The Benign Gynecology Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology delivers compassionate, expert care for the full range of gynecologic issues.

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