Urinary tract infection (UTI) tests: At home and doctors

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A UTI is an infection in part of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.

UTIs are among the most commonly diagnosed infections, affecting approximately 150 million people worldwide each year. Bacterial infections cause most UTIs, but some occur due to viruses or fungi.

This article discusses the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment of UTIs. It also looks at medical tests and home tests, including how to interpret the results.

Doctors categorize UTIs as uncomplicated or complicated.

Uncomplicated UTIs typically affect individuals who have no urinary tract abnormalities. Complicated UTIs are associated with factors that compromise the urinary tract, including renal failure or pregnancy.

There are three different types of UTIs, which affect different parts of the urinary tract:

  • Urethritis: This infection is in the urethra.
  • Cystitis: This type of UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urethra and travel to the bladder.
  • Pyelonephritis: This infection in the kidneys usually occurs due to bacteria traveling up the urethra.

The symptoms of UTIs can vary between adults and children.

In adults, the most common symptoms include:

  • pain while urinating
  • frequent urination
  • inability to urinate
  • sudden onset of the need to urinate

Children with a UTI may have a high fever, feel unwell, or wet themselves.

Learn more about other symptoms of UTIs.

A person who suspects that they have a UTI can try using an over-the-counter UTI dipstick test. These are available at local drugstores and online.

At-home testing kits can be helpful because they are easy to obtain, relatively inexpensive, and fairly accurate. They check for white blood cells and bacteria in the urine and confirm whether an infection is present.

Interpreting home test results

These tests work similarly to a pregnancy test, using a test strip that a person wets with fresh urine.

After 1–2 minutes, the test strip will change color, indicating whether a UTI is present. A person must match the color of the test strip pads to the color blocks on the foil pouch in the test kit.

Most strips test for leukocytes and nitrites. Some also check pH levels.

Leukocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off infection. Healthy urine contains chemicals called nitrates that can turn into nitrites if an infection is present. Therefore, the presence of leukocytes or nitrites in the urine is often a sign of a UTI.

Lastly, some home strips test pH levels. Healthy urine is slightly acidic, with a pH value in the range of 4.5–8.0. A pH level of 8.5 or 9 can indicate the presence of an infection and, therefore, a UTI.

If a home test is positive for any of these indicators, an individual likely has a UTI.

Doctors detect a UTI by identifying the pathogen that has caused the infection. They do this by collecting a midstream urine sample and running tests on it to get an estimate of the number of bacteria in the urine.

Some individuals who get frequent UTIs may need to undergo an ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan. These imaging tests allow the doctor to check for an abnormality in the urinary tract.

Tests that doctors perform are more accurate and informative than at-home tests. For instance, they can also help detect the severity of the infection and how far it has spread.

If a person thinks that they have a UTI, relying on a home test may not be the best option. Instead, they should seek medical advice as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of the pathogen and reduce the risk of complications.

The goal of treatment for UTIs is to get rid of the infection, alleviate the symptoms, and prevent a reoccurrence.

Prescription antibiotics are an effective treatment for most UTIs. However, it is important to follow the doctors’ directions exactly because any deviation increases the risk of the infection not going away.

The treatment for urethritis and cystitis usually includes antibiotics and small, temporary lifestyle adjustments. These may include drinking more water and urinating more frequently.

The treatment for pyelonephritis usually includes antibiotics. If a person is too unwell to take oral antibiotics, they may need a hospital stay and a short course of intravenous antibiotics. Kidney infections tend to make people feel ill, so different treatment options are sometimes necessary.

At present, no home remedies can cure UTIs. Alongside taking antibiotics, drinking more water is helpful because it will make a person urinate more frequently, helping flush out the urinary tract.

Although some people believe that cranberry juice or cranberries can help treat UTIs, there is little scientific evidence to support this theory. Studies investigating the effect of cranberry juice and cranberries on UTIs have produced mixed results, so more investigations are necessary.

However, the American Urological Association (AUA) says that doctors can offer cranberry juice as a way to prevent UTIs in people who experience recurring infections. Although this suggests that this home remedy might be an effective preventive measure, the AUA does note that there is little evidence to support this theory.

Some complementary approaches to treating UTIs include:

  • mannose, which is a type of simple sugar
  • probiotics
  • potassium salt supplements
  • estriol cream
  • vitamin A and vitamin C supplements

Although the use of some of these appears to be promising, the number of studies is limited. If a person thinks that they have a UTI, they should seek the advice of a doctor. The doctor can confirm a diagnosis and create a treatment plan to prevent the spread of the infection.

A UTI occurs when an infection, which can be either bacterial, viral, or fungal, travels up the urinary tract.

Females are more prone to getting UTIs because they have shorter urethras than males, making it easier for pathogens to travel up to the bladder. Approximately 40–60% of females will experience a UTI during their lifetime.

Other risk factors for UTIs include:

  • using a catheter
  • manipulating the urethra
  • having sexual intercourse
  • using spermicides and diaphragms
  • undergoing frequent pelvic exams
  • having certain anatomical abnormalities
  • having had a kidney transplant
  • living with diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system
  • being pregnant

UTIs are a common type of infection that affects the urethra, bladder, ureters, or, sometimes, the kidneys. UTIs are particularly common in females because they have shorter urethras, so infections are more likely to spread faster.

Although at-home tests are cheap and readily available, it is always better to seek medical advice for a suspected UTI. Doctors can carry out more accurate and informative tests that help them determine how far the infection has spread and the appropriate treatment options.



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