Everything You Need to Know About UTI Testing

Woman trying to hold in her pee.
  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) develops when harmful bacteria contaminate the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.

  • UTIs are typically diagnosed through professional medical testing. These tests require a urine sample that is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

  • There are generally no risks associated with UTI testing. However, some people experience mild pain and discomfort or anxiety related to the procedure.

  • It’s important to get tested for UTIs as soon as you suspect infection to avoid further complications that may be harder to treat later on

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common medical condition that affect around 60% of women and 12% of men in their lifetime.

Although it’s not considered a life-threatening condition, getting tested and treated for a UTI is important if you suspect you have an infection.

LifeMD can help you learn how a UTI develops, the different types of tests used to diagnose it, and the potential risks associated with UTI testing.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by harmful bacteria and affects the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.

This infection occurs when bacteria — typically from the digestive tract — enter the urinary system through the urethra.

Common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Strong, persistent urge to urinate

  • Burning sensation during urination

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Lower abdominal pain

How are UTIs diagnosed?

UTIs can be diagnosed by a medical professional or through self-testing.

If you visit a doctor, they will likely analyze your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and order lab tests for an accurate diagnosis.

Key Point: How Can You Tell the Difference Between a UTI and a Bladder Infection?

Bladder infections — also known as cystitis — are a type of UTI. While both conditions share similar symptoms, cystitis mainly affects the bladder and causes inflammation in its lining.

UTIs affect the entire urinary tract, including the bladder.

Which Tests are Required to Diagnose a UTI?

There are a few different testing methods that can be used to diagnose a UTI. Let’s take a look at these:

  • Urinalysis: This is the most common way to detect an infection and it involves urinating into a cup or onto UTI test strips provided by your doctor. Your urine sample will be sent to a laboratory where it will be examined for signs of a UTI — such as the presence of certain bacteria and indicators of inflammation.

  • Urine culture: If your urinalysis suggests a UTI, your doctor may request a urine culture test. You’ll also need to urinate into a cup for this, and this sample will be sent to a laboratory. The lab technician will use the sample to grow and identify specific bacterial cultures. This helps doctors to determine if antibiotics will be effective in treating your condition.

  • Rapid diagnostic tests: These tests provide quick results and are used to detect indications of an infection. It might be necessary to get a urinalysis if you receive a positive rapid test result to ensure a more accurate outcome.

In some cases, UTIs may not respond to treatment, and you’ll have to undergo another round of tests. These may include:

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound can help identify structural abnormalities in the urinary tract — such as kidney stones or other blockages — that may be contributing to recurring UTIs. This is normally a painless and noninvasive procedure.

  • CT scan: These scans are used for detailed imaging of the urinary tract and can help detect more complex issues like tumors. Getting a CT scan may require an injection of contrast dye.

  • Cystoscopy: This procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the urethra and bladder to get a visual of the urinary tract. It allows your doctor to inspect the bladder lining and other areas directly, helping to identify abnormalities. A cystoscopy is usually performed under local or general anesthesia.

UTI testing strip next to a urine sample.

How Do You Prepare for a UTI Test?

Your doctor will typically inform you of any specific things you should do in preparation for your UTI test. Common preparations may include:

  • Maintaining your regular fluid intake before the test to ensure an adequate urine sample.

  • Avoiding urinating shortly before the test to ensure you can provide enough for the test and analysis.

  • Cleaning your genital area with warm water to maintain proper hygiene and prevent contamination of the sample.

  • Carefully following your healthcare provider’s instructions on how to collect the sample correctly.

It’s important to take the necessary steps recommended by your doctor to prepare for your UTI test.

These preparations help to ensure that you provide an adequate urine sample that can give you an accurate diagnosis.

What Should You Expect on the Day of Your Test?

UTI testing may vary depending on the specific healthcare provider or facility you visit. In most cases, you will visit your doctor for an initial consultation before they perform a test.

During this consultation, they will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, and other relevant information.

After the assessment, your doctor will provide a sterile container to collect the urine sample. In some instances, they may assist you with the sample collection to ensure proper technique.

After you’ve provided the sample, it will be sent to the laboratory for analysis. Technicians will examine the sample for bacteria, white blood cells, and other signs of infection.

The specific tests they conduct may vary depending on your symptoms, medical history, and doctor’s guidelines.

Once the results are available, your healthcare provider will discuss them with you, provide a diagnosis, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a UTI Test?

The cost of a UTI test can vary, depending on the type, the doctor, and the facility you visit.

If you visit a doctor or professional medical facility for your test, the cost is generally higher. This is because you’ll likely also be paying for a consultation fee in addition to the test itself.

In-office UTI tests can cost anywhere from $50-$200.

Can You Test for a UTI at Home?

It’s possible to take an at-home UTI test by purchasing a kit over-the-counter (OTC) or from an online platform.

Testing with these kits typically involves collecting a urine sample and using a test strip to detect the presence of infection indicators, such as nitrite or leukocyte esterase chemicals.

You’ll need to interpret your own test results based on the provided instructions. However, an at-home UTI test shouldn’t be a substitute for a professional medical diagnosis.

If you suspect that you have a UTI, it’s best to speak to your doctor. They will be able to confirm your results and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

How accurate are at-home UTI tests?

The accuracy of a UTI test kit will vary, depending on the brand and method used.

While these tests can provide an initial indication of a UTI, they may not always be as reliable as laboratory-based tests.

False-positive or false-negative results can also occur due to various factors — including improper sample collection and interpretation errors.

If you receive a positive result with an at-home test, you should consider following up with your doctor and going for a professional evaluation.

Why Should You Get Tested for UTIs?

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to get tested if you suspect that you have a UTI. These include:

  • Accurate diagnosis: UTI symptoms may sometimes overlap with other conditions, and a proper diagnosis is necessary to ensure appropriate treatment. Testing helps to confirm the presence of a UTI and allows your doctor to rule out other causes.

  • Prompt treatment: Early detection and treatment of UTIs are essential to prevent the spread of infection. If a UTI isn’t detected early on, it can cause more severe health complications. Leaving a UTI completely untreated may also lead to issues like kidney infections, which can be harder to treat.

  • Tailored management plan: UTI testing helps your doctor to identify the specific cause of the infection. This allows them to prescribe targeted antibiotics to ensure an effective and appropriate treatment for your infection.

  • Preventing recurrent infections: For individuals that experience recurring UTIs, testing can help identify any underlying causes or risk factors that contribute to reinfection. This can help guide preventative measures and strategies to reduce the risk of future UTIs.

  • Monitoring treatment response: In cases where UTIs do not resolve with initial treatment, testing can help determine why the prescribed antibiotics are not effective. Your doctor can then determine if alternative treatment approaches are required.

What are the Risks Associated with UTI Testing?

Although UTI testing is generally considered safe, there are a few risks and considerations to be aware of.

Discomfort and pain

Some testing methods — such as cystoscopies — may cause mild discomfort and pain. This can vary depending on your individual pain sensitivity.

You should inform your healthcare provider if you experience any significant discomfort during testing.

False results

UTI tests — including urinalysis and urine cultures — have a small risk of producing false positive or negative results.

Factors like improper sample collection, contamination, or technical errors can all contribute to inaccurate results.

It’s important to follow instructions carefully and communicate any concerns or inconsistencies with your doctor as soon as you notice them.

Invasive procedures

Testing methods like a cystoscopy involve inserting a tube into the body. Although complications are rare, there is a minimal risk that these procedures can cause urinary tract injury, bleeding, or further infection.

It’s important to note that these risks are usually quite low, and healthcare providers generally take precautions to minimize them.

Psychological distress

Some individuals may experience anxiety or stress related to the testing process — especially if they have a fear of medical procedures.

It’s recommended to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have beforehand so that they can address them and offer guidance throughout the testing process.

When Should You Speak to a Doctor About Getting a UTI Test?

A UTI is a condition that requires a professional medical diagnosis and treatment. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor if you suspect that you have an infection.

UTI symptoms

It’s recommended to make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any UTI symptoms. Common signs of an infection may include:

  • Frequent urination

  • A strong urge to urinate

  • Pain or burning during urination

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Lower abdominal pain

Woman clutching her lower abdomen and wincing in pain.

Persistent or worsening symptoms

If you are experiencing UTI symptoms that don’t seem to improve with home remedies or OTC treatments, it is important to see a healthcare professional.

Persistent or worsening symptoms may indicate a more severe infection that requires a different treatment approach.

Recurrent UTIs

If you have a history of recurrent UTIs — more than three UTIs within a year — it is advisable to see a doctor.

They can evaluate potential underlying causes or risk factors contributing to recurring infections and develop a tailored management plan.

Complications or risk factors

If you are pregnant or have underlying medical conditions — such as diabetes or digestive and kidney diseases — you will require medical attention for UTI testing.

UTIs can pose additional risks in these situations and may require specific treatment approaches.

At risk of UTIs, check yes or no, with pen pointing to yes.

High fever or severe symptoms

If you develop a high fever, intense pain in the lower abdomen or back, vomiting, or other severe symptoms, it is important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition — such as a kidney infection — that requires prompt evaluation and treatment.

Where Can You Learn More About UTI Tests?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or suspect that you might have a UTI, LifeMD is here to help. It can be uncomfortable discussing intimate issues in a doctor’s office, but with LifeMD, you can schedule a virtual appointment to ensure your privacy.

Make an appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner who can provide you with information about UTIs and guidance on how to properly treat infection — all from the comfort of your home.

Theresa Vergara, CNP- BC

Theresa is a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a Masters in Human Nutrition and a Doctorate in Nursing from Columbia University. Theresa has treated hospitalized patients and helped patients manage chronic and acute conditions.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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