Question: What do you do five to six times a day but never think
But if you have a urinary tract infection, or UTI, you're probably thinking about
peeing quite a lot. Why? Because it stings when you go — yow! You also might
have the feeling that you need to go to the bathroom all the time. And when you do,
phew! Your pee smells bad.
These things happen because bacteria have caused an infection somewhere in your
urinary tract. Let's find out more.
What Exactly Is a Urinary Tract?
Your urinary tract is actually a system made up of these main parts:
All day long, the kidneys clean waste products from your blood. The waste becomes
urine (pee), which drips into the ureters (long, thin tubes, one connected to each
kidney). From there, the urine travels through the ureters down to the bladder.
When it's empty, your bladder is about the same size as an empty balloon. It looks
like one, too! Then the bladder slowly fills up with the urine coming from the kidneys.
When you have about a cup (237 milliliters) of urine in your bladder, your brain
tells you it's time to find a bathroom.
Once you're ready to pee, you relax a set of muscles at the bottom of your bladder.
That lets the urine rush into the urethra, a tube that leads from your bladder out
of your body.
Ahhh! That feels better.
Urinary Tract Troubles
Girls are more likely than boys to get a UTI. That's because their urethras are
much shorter than boys' urethras. The shorter urethra means bacteria can get up into
the bladder more easily and cause an infection there.
Some of the bacteria
that cause UTIs normally live in your intestines. Each time you have a bowel
movement (poop), some of these bacteria come out of your body. If they aren't
wiped away properly, they stay on your skin. In girls, this means they can grow near
the opening of the urethra because their urethras are closer to where they wipe. From
there, bacteria can get inside the urethra, causing irritation to the urethra. This
is called urethritis (say: yur-ih-THRYE-tus).
It's just a hop, skip, and a jump from the urethra to the bladder. If the bacteria
go there, they can cause a bladder infection, which is a type of UTI. You may also
hear a bladder infection called cystitis (say: sis-TYE-tus), which really means an
irritation of the bladder.
Sometimes the harmful bacteria keep spreading. From the bladder, they may head
into one of the ureters and climb up into a kidney. This type of UTI is called pyelonephritis
(say: pie-eh-loh-nih-FRYE-tus), or a kidney infection, and it's serious
because it can damage the kidneys and make you very sick.
How Do I Know if I Have a UTI?
You may notice signs of a urinary tract infection before anyone else can see there's
anything wrong with you. That's why it's important to talk with a parent if you're
having peeing problems. Ask yourself these questions and share your answers with your
mom or dad:
Does it hurt or sting when you pee?
Do you have to go to the bathroom much more often than normal?
Can you only pee a little bit at a time?
Do you have to get up many times in the night to pee?
Do you feel pain, pressure, or a tickle in your lower belly?
Is there blood in your pee?
Is your pee cloudy?
Does it smell bad when you pee?
These are signs that you might have a bladder infection, so based on your answers,
your mom or dad may decide to call your doctor or take you in for a visit.
Also be sure to tell a parent if you have any of those symptoms, plus you feel
feverish, have the chills,
or have pain in your
belly or back, just under your lower ribs. These are signs of a kidney infection
and you should see a doctor right away.
What Will the Doctor Do?
First, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. If your doctor thinks
you have a UTI, he or she will want to test your urine. You'll have to go into a bathroom
and pee into a plastic cup.
Your doctor will give you special wipes to clean yourself off before you collect
the pee. This is so your urine sample won't contain germs from outside your body.
If the doctor finds germs in your pee, it's a sign of infection and he or she will
want to be sure those germs are coming from the inside, not
the outside. Some bacteria on the outside is normal and aren't necessarily causing
the problem on the inside.
One way the doctor can test your pee is to dip a special kind of stick into your
cup of urine. The stick has specially treated paper on it and if it turns a certain
color, it means you have a UTI. The doctor also can choose to send the urine sample
to a lab for testing. If it turns out you have a bladder infection, your doctor will
order some medicine
for you to take to kill the bacteria.
You'll go home, and take it easy, and you'll start feeling better in a few days.
You'll also want to stay away from foods and drinks that contain caffeine,
such as cola or tea. Caffeine can irritate your bladder, making you even more uncomfortable.
A kid who has a kidney infection — with chills and a high fever — may
need to spend a couple of days in the hospital. At the hospital, the germ-fighting
medicine can be delivered more effectively through a tiny plastic tube inserted into
Once you've had a UTI, you'll never want to have one again! To help keep those
bacteria out of your urinary tract, take these steps:
Keep clean. Wash your private parts every day when you take a bath or shower.
If you're a girl, always wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom.
Don't hold it. If you have to go, go.
When you're thirsty, drink something, no matter how busy you are. Water
and cranberry juice are two good choices. Those trips to the bathroom can help
wash bacteria out of your body and cranberry juice may actually help prevent
If you're a girl, think twice about taking bubble baths because they can bother
Wear cotton underwear. Nylon underwear traps moisture near your body, especially
when it's hot outside. Bacteria love to grow in warm, moist places. Gross!