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 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 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
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.
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.
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.