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By conservative estimates, one out of every 10 child suffers from a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). The problem with this condition is it can often be confused with irritable bladder syndrome or sometimes doesn't get detected at all. In severe cases, it can affect the kidney as well (pyelonephritis) leading to lifelong issues like hypertension. Dr Pankaj Deshpande, a paediatric nephrologist tells us more about the disease, its symptoms and why parents should take this condition very seriously.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) can be divided into two broad categories depending on the part of the urinary bladder it affects. When it affects the lower urinary tract it is known as cystitis and when it affects the upper urinary tract including the kidney it is known as pyelonephritis.
While older children might be able to voice his/her concerns like pain in the abdominal region, increased urine passing and loss of bladder control, detecting UTIs in younger children is particularly troublesome. The one symptom you need to look out for in very young children is fever without any accompanying cough or cold; that's one of the clear signs. Because of the asymptomatic nature of the condition it's very important to maintain constant vigilance.
Children tend to suffer from UTIs either because they're not drinking enough water or lack proper hygiene. Those who retain urine do so because they're constipated which occurs because they are not drinking enough fluids leading to the condition. Basically, this vicious circle will continue until children start drinking enough fluids. The old adage of eight glasses of water might be too much for children, ideally, a child who weight 10-15 kg should drink at least 1 litre of fluids a day. There are other factors like genetic make-up but 90% of all UTIs can be prevented by simply drinking enough water and passing urine regularly. It's up to the parent to set an example and make sure the children are drinking enough water.
There's a common belief that you can get infections from dirty toilets or diapers but the fact is that there's no research to prove this. There might be a causal link in the sense that a dirty toilet could prevent a child from using it and lead to a UTI. Diapers on the other hand can lead to rashes which can get confused with an infection.
Like I mentioned before, the infection can be broadly categorised into two categories based on the area it affects - lower tract infection and upper tract infection which includes the kidney. The second kind, known as pyelonephritis can lead to permanent kidney damage and dysfunction. The kidney of course plays a vital role regulating water and mineral levels and removing waste products through urine. Damage or dysfunction could manifest itself into lifestyle conditions like hypertension/ high blood pressure.
The only way to treat UTI is through antibiotics. However, we have to make sure that the child is actually suffering from an infection and not carrying any other symptom like redness of the genital area or rashes because then they'd be given antibiotics without cause.
Basically, the simplest way to avoid UTIs in children is by making sure they are drinking enough water, passing urine regularly and maintaining proper hygiene.