Suddenly my child’s peeing all the time… what’s up?

When children suddenly start peeing all the time, we need to consider the many potential causes. There are many reasons kids have frequent urination. Sometimes it’s as simple as they like to flush the toilet or splash in the sink. This is common in newly potty trained kids. But peeing all the time can also signify a medical problem that needs to be addressed. Learn the potential risks of why children run to the restroom frequently or start to have accidents. This can help parents decide if they need to rush to the ER.

Associated symptoms to identify

Frequent urination can be associated with other things that give us a clue as to what is going on. Sometimes they do not seem connected to the urine, so you might not associate the symptoms. Discuss the issues that apply to your child with your child’s physician.

Behavioral changes

Behavioral changes can be a clue. For instance, look for signs of anxiety. Remember that anxiety does not always look like fear. The frequent urination might be due to worrying about not making it to the bathroom in time and having an accident.

Pain

Pain while urinating might signify an infection. Infections often have other symptoms as well.

Pain might also be from skin irritation due to improper wiping in girls. In uncircumcised boys, pain can develop from improper cleaning under the foreskin. Staying in wet swimsuits too long also can lead to skin irritation and painful urination.

Pain in the abdomen, back or side can indicate problems with the kidneys or an infection. Sometimes this is due to constipation. It will require a physical exam and possibly testing to determine the cause. Schedule an appointment with your child’s primary care physician. If the pain is so severe that he or she cannot sleep, walk, or move easily, go to the ER.

Change in urine odor and color

A change in urine smell and color is important to note. Red, brown, cloudy or smelly urine can be signs of kidney damage, infection, bleeding problems, dehydration, and other serious conditions.

Some foods, such as asparagus and coffee, can change the smell of urine. Color changes can also happen as a result of foods, such as beets or berries turning urine red, or rhubarb or fava beans turning urine brown.

Many medications and vitamin supplements can change the color and odor of urine. It will be important to discuss your child’s recent foods, medicines, and supplements with his or her physician.

Other signs of illness

Other signs of illness can offer clues. Think about fevers, cough and cold symptoms, swelling of the eyes or legs, joint pains, and more.

One example to consider would be Rhinovirus. Rhinovirus typically causes upper respiratory tract infections with cough, runny nose, and pink eye. It can also sometimes cause vomiting and diarrhea or urinary tract infection symptoms.

Causes of frequent urination

Diabetes

Frequent urination can be a sign of diabetes. This is a potentially life threatening issue and needs to be addressed immediately.

Symptoms of diabetes will include being very thirsty and frequent urination. Kids might appear dehydrated despite the high urine volume. They can have weight loss, dry mouth, and low energy. Kids with untreated diabetes usually appear sick and tired.

When sugars reach a critical level, diabetics develop fruity breath. This is associated with a pattern of breathing called Kussmaul breathing. This is a medical emergency. Diabetes can be a rapidly developing problem. If you notice this breathing pattern, get to an ER immediately.

Testing for diabetes initially uses a sample of urine. Urine is tested for sugar. If there is sugar in the urine, blood will also be checked.

Children with newly diagnosed diabetes are referred to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists are specialists in diabetes and other hormone issues. Newly diagnosed diabetics often spend a few days in the hospital for stabilization of medical issues and teaching of how to manage at home.

Urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) commonly cause frequent urination. Other symptoms, such as fever, pain with urination, and urinary accidents, often occur. Bacteria and viruses can cause UTIs.

UTIs are more common in girls and in boys who are not circumcised.

A urine test can help to determine if there is a UTI. A quick urinalysis can suggest an infection, but a culture is needed for actual diagnosis. A urine culture takes up to 2 days to grow bacteria. Bacterial UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Viral UTIs self resolve after a few days.

Constipation

Many parents are surprised at all the things pediatricians blame on constipation. I can’t say how many parents deny that their child is constipated when they are. An x-ray often shows the abdomen is full of poop even when kids poop every day.

Note: I don’t always get an x-ray to diagnose constipation. Studies are only needed to help with diagnosis if the exam findings are not clear. Usually it’s obvious from the description of the stooling pattern and the look of the poop. Kids often cannot describe their poop accurately, so I use a Bristol Scale. You can use this at home to talk to your kids about their bowel movements.

Many children with constipation don’t initially seem to be constipated so a trial of Miralax is often recommended. This treats the constipation if it exists and is part of the diagnostic evaluation. Diet changes and changes to toileting habits are also important. These take longer to make a difference so I still recommend Miralax.

If treating the constipation helps, continue to treat until it is no longer needed.

Pollakiuria = increased frequency of childhood

Increased frequency of urination, also called pollakiuria, is common and not harmful. Other terms that have been used to describe this condition include extraordinary daytime urinary frequency and increased frequency of childhood.

The cause of this is unknown but often is triggered by a stressful event. Kids with this have a normal physical exam and urinalysis.

Pollakiuria involves frequent urination during the day. Kids will feel the need to urinate frequently, even though there’s really no physical reason.

Most children do not change their nighttime urinary pattern. If they previously wet the bed, they still will. If they previously stayed dry all night, they will continue to stay dry at night.

Pollakiuria is seen more often in boys, but also occurs in girls. It’s most common between 4 and 10 years.

Despite the frustrating symptoms, it’s not a serious illness and it self resolves. It generally lasts 1-6 months and can be quite problematic due to the frequent bathroom trips needed. Some kids pee as often as every 30-90 minutes.

To diagnose this, a child should be seen to discuss the symptoms and to do a physical exam. Often constipation aggravates this issue, so close attention to stool patterns and the abdominal exam are important. A urinalysis should be done to rule out diabetes or urinary tract infection. Pollakiuria is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means there is no test for it, but we rule out other potential causes of frequent urination.

This problem typically starts suddenly and ends suddenly. It can last for months.

What can you do to help if there’s no treatable cause?

If there is a treatable medical condition, treating that condition will usually help the frequent urination. While it seems like there’s nothing to do to help if there’s no cause found, don’t get discouraged! There are things to do that can help.

Contrary to what many intuitively think, drinking plenty of water is beneficial. Don’t limit water!

Don’t punish kids for needing to use the restroom or for having accidents. It may not be under their control at all. If it is a behavioral issue, the child needs support, not punishment. Punishment or belittlement will only make them feel bad. This worsens the situation. It can be hard to not get frustrated, but take a big breath and try to remain calm. Use words that are neutral and not judgmental.

Be sure the teacher knows what’s going on. If your child needs to go to the bathroom frequently, he needs to be allowed.

Remind your child that he or she is healthy. This can help to reduce the anxiety and stress in their minds. Stress can make this condition worse, so reassurance is very important!

Show your child that it’s possible to wait for a longer period of time to urinate. Explain that there will be no urine leakage because that fear increases anxiety about not going to the bathroom. The more confidence they develop, the better their bladder control. Practice waiting a little longer before going to the bathroom and celebrate small improvements.

Foods to avoid if your child has frequent urination:

The foods and drinks listed below may or may not increase frequent urination.

Avoid these for at least for 2 weeks. Slowly re-introduce one at a time to see if they lead to increased urination.

  • Highly acidic foods such as salsa, sodas, teas, coffee, cranberry juice and orange juice.
  • Caffeine acts as a diuretic and increases urine. It’s found in coffee, tea, chocolate, sometimes ice cream or other treats.
  • Spicy foods such as chili peppers, jalapeño peppers, horse radish, curry and salsa.
  • Artificial colors.
  • Carbonated beverages.

Most importantly…

The most important thing to remember is to first rule out medical causes that need to be treated.

Once those are ruled out, this is a lesson in patience. Don’t belittle your child or use harsh words when they need to use the bathroom again. And again. This will pass.

Work on having your child hold their urine for a few minutes longer with encouragement. Frequent urination usually stops as suddenly as it started.

Is Miralax Safe?

Constipation is one of the most common problems that affects kids. Sometimes it’s mild and changes to diet and routines can help sufficiently. Those are of course the ideal treatments. But if it’s more severe or if kids are resistant to change, Miralax is my go-to treatment. Several parents have asked me about its safety due to what they’ve seen online. I know many more are probably worried but just haven’t asked. With all the concern, I thought I’d share some of the concerns and reasons that I still recommend it.

What is Miralax?

Miralax has been used since 2000, and since I finished my pediatric residency prior to that, I can remember the alternatives we used previously. Many of them were difficult to get kids to take due to poor taste or grittiness. When Miralax was first available, treatment of constipation improved significantly due to the tolerance and acceptance by kids. It was initially available by prescription only and expensive – thankfully both of those hurdles have been removed.

Miralax is the brand name for polyethylene glycol 3350 or PEG 3350. It is now available as an over the counter medication, so no prescription is needed. Generic versions are available. It has been used by many kids over many years, often for long periods of time, to treat constipation.

Is it a laxative?

PEG3350 is a stool softener, not a laxative (despite the name).The molecule binds to water, but is too large to be absorbed through the gut so it passes through the gut and carries the water with it. It works by increasing the water content of the stool. The more PEG taken, the softer the stool.

PEG is not a laxative and should not cause cramps. It is not habit forming. As mentioned above, it is not absorbed into the body it just goes through the GI tract and leaves with the stool.

How is it used?

PEG 3350 is a tasteless powder that dissolves in liquids. It often needs to sit for a few minutes and re-stirred to fully dissolve.

It may be dissolved in water, with a slight change to its taste, but is palatable. Be careful of adding it to drinks high in sugar (even juice), since your child may be on it for a long time, and they don’t need the added sugar. Consider making flavored water with your child’s favorite fruit. Simply put cut up fruit in water in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Infused water tastes great and is a healthy base for your Miralax mixture – or anytime your kids need a drink and don’t like plain water.

I don’t recommend adding it to carbonated beverages.

I recommend mixing a capful of powder in 8 ounces of water and titrating the amount given based on need. My office website discusses this in detail.

Why do we need medicine?

Constipation is common.

Very common. It causes pain, poor eating habits, fear of toileting, and sometimes even leads to ER trips and CT scans. It can last months to years in some kids, so it is not a minor issue when kids suffer from it.

Diet changes are hard – especially in kids!

Kids are often constipated because they have a diet that is poor in water and fiber. They need to eat more fruits, vegetable and whole grains. Many kids drink too much milk and eat too much cheese.

Changing habits is very difficult in strong willed kids. When it comes to food, they’re all strong willed! Dietary changes of course should be done so they are healthier on many levels, but if their stomach hurts all the time, they are unlikely to get out of their comfort zone with foods. Habits change too slowly to help the constipation if used alone.

I encourage first changing the diet to help constipation, but if that fails, or if it is too significant of a problem, PEG 3350 is my first choice. I have recommended it for years without any known side effects or complications, other than the kids who have frequent watery stools on it. This usually responds to continuing the medicine to release the large stool mass that has built up. Some kids just need to decrease the dose a bit.

What’s the concern?

I was quite surprised in 2015 to see that researchers were starting a study on the drug. It surprised me not only because I’ve never heard valid concerns about the safety or efficacy of the medicine (I have seen some really weird stuff online, but nothing that is valid), but also because I’ve never seen headlines that a study is starting. Usually headlines report results of studies. Why did it hit the press before the study was even done? I have no idea.

Even more interesting… it seems the study hasn’t started yet. Three years later. Not a high priority, apparently. Which fits with the low level of concern I find among general pediatricians and pediatric gastrointestinal specialists.

Yet parents still ask about the risks.

What was the proposed study?

Initial reports stated that they were going to look at the safety of other molecules in the PEG 3350.

PEG 3350 itself is a very large molecule that isn’t absorbed by the gut, but there are concerns that smaller compounds could be found as impurities in the manufacturing process of PEG 3350 or formed when PEG 3350 is broken down within the body.

The question is if these smaller compounds are absorbed by the gut and accumulated in the bodies of children taking PEG 3350.

Some families have reported concerns to the FDA that some neurologic or behavioral symptoms in children may be related to taking PEG 3350. It is unclear whether these side-effects are due to PEG 3350 since neurologic and behavioral symptoms can lead to constipation.

What are the recommendations?

The 2014 guidelines for constipation diagnosis and management from the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition support the use of PEG 3350: Evaluation and Treatment of Functional Constipation in Infants and Children: Evidence-Based Recommendations From ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN.

These guidelines basically state that not many studies are required to diagnose functional constipation after a thorough history and exam. This means that we don’t need to do expensive tests to make the diagnosis.

The common things we recommend (fiber, water, probiotics) don’t have any proof that they work. There is evidence that PEG 3350 works.

Why does the label say it’s for adults?

As a pediatrician I know that many (if not most) of the medicines we use in children are not tested in children before they come to market.

Historically once something is approved in adults, physicians start to use them in children. Companies generally don’t invest money in studies to expand uses after approval because they know that the products will be used in broader ways without the specific indication. They don’t want to spend money they don’t need to spend, which makes sense from a business perspective. It’s also more difficult to do studies in minors.

New rules encourage pediatric testing, but all the drugs previously used in children will not need to undergo this testing. Because they’ve been used for years, we rely on post-market safety data.

Are there studies in children?

Many of the news articles say that studies have not been done in children, but this isn’t true.

This 2014 research article reviews the history of PEG 3350 and compares to other medicines used in pediatric constipation. It also shows safe blood electrolyte levels while on PEG 3350 long term.

In 2001 a study was published showing safe and effective pediatric dosing.

2003 studyshowed safety and better tolerance than previously used medications for constipation.

A study specifically looking in children under 18 months of age showed safety.

2009 Canadian study shows its safety in children.

If you look at the references of any of these studies, you will find more. The only side effects noted are related to diarrhea, cramping, bloating — all things that would be expected with a large stool mass blocking the new, softer, water filled stools from coming out. Once the large stool mass is out, these symptoms resolve.

For what is PEG approved?

PEG is used in many products, not just stool softeners. It is found in ointments and pills to allow them to be more easily dissolved in water. PEG can also be found in common household products such as certain brands of skin creams and tooth paste.

PEG 3350 is approved for treatment of constipation in adults for up to 7 days. Approval is based on studies available at the time a medicine is approved. Many commonly used medications are not specifically FDA approved for use in children less than 16 years due to difficulties and expense in testing drugs on minors.

How do we know it works?

There have been several studies in children and the collective experience of pediatricians around the world showing improved tolerability over other treatments for constipation because PEG 3350 has no taste, odor, or texture.

It has been shown to be either as effective or more effective than other constipation treatments. See the links to these studies above. Until children can keep stools soft with adequate amounts of water, fruits, vegetables, and fiber, long term use of PEG is well tolerated.

How long can PEG be used in children?

This is a very difficult thing to study because the longer a study follows their subjects, the more subjects are lost to follow up.

There have been studies of up to 30 months that showed safe use. Blood electrolytes, liver and kidney tests were all reassuring that PEG is safe during the study.

Pediatric gastroenterologists and general pediatricians have often recommended even longer periods of time without any known side effects.

If my child has taken PEG 3350, should I worry?

Is miralax safe?
Is MiraLAX safe?

I cannot stress enough that the studies that have been done all support the safety and efficacy of PEG 3350.

After years of experience using PEG 3350 with many children, I have not seen any neurologic or behavioral problems caused by PEG 3350. I do see many kids with baseline neurologic and behavioral problems become constipated, so they often end up on PEG 3350, but if the issue is carefully assessed, the problems start prior to the treatment.

Generally if the stools are softer, you can more easily work with the behavioral issues that cause the constipation, such as loss of appetite/poor diet and failure to sit on the toilet long enough to empty the stool from the rectum.

If you decide it is time to stop the medicine, be sure to discuss this with your child’s doctor to keep them in the loop about how things are going!