A doctor diagnoses a UTI

Diagnosing a Urinary Tract Infection

Bacterial infections that affect any part of the urinary system (bladder, urethra, kidneys, or ureters) are referred to as urinary tract infections, or UTIs. The symptoms of urinary tract infections generally include a strong, persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation while urinating, strong-smelling urine, pelvic pain, and urine that appears cloudy or bloody.

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Simple urinary tract infections that are limited to the urethra and bladder are easy to treat when caught early, but if left untreated, UTIs could spread to the kidneys, which can cause serious or even life-threatening complications.

Family doctors, nurse practitioners, or other health care providers are capable of treating most urinary tract infections. However, if you are experiencing frequent recurrences of urinary tract infections, then your doctor may recommend you to a specialist for a complete evaluation. This might be a urologist, who specializes in urinary disorders or a nephrologist, who specializes in kidney disorders. If your doctor suspects you might have a UTI, confirming the diagnosis is usually fairly simple with some easy tests. Here are the most commonly used diagnostic tools for urinary tract infections, as well as other tests that might be used to diagnose causes behind recurrent UTIs.   

Urine Sample

The first thing your doctor will do is ask for a urine sample to examine and analyze in the lab. He or she will be looking for white blood cells, red bloods, and bacteria that would indicate a urinary tract infection. Your doctor may ask you to wipe your genital area with an antiseptic pad before urinating into the sample cup in order to avoid contaminating the sample with any external bacteria.

Urine Culture

Sometimes after a urine sample analysis confirms that you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor may also want to use the urine sample to grow the bacteria in the lab. This helps your doctor determine which type of bacteria is causing your infection, which will help him or her make a better choice of antibiotic to treat your infection.

Imaging Tests

If you have frequent or recurring urinary tract infections, then your doctor will probably want to look closer at your urinary tract to check for any abnormalities that may be causing this to happen. This can be done using an ultrasound, a computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. Contrast dye may also be used during these imaging tests to better highlight the structures that make up your urinary tract.


Another option for discovering the cause of recurrent UTIs is a cystoscopy. This is a procedure that involves inserting a long, thin tube called a cystoscope into your urethra and through to your bladder. The cystoscope has a lens attached to the end, which allows your doctor to see inside your urethra and bladder. This procedure can help your doctor to determine if there are any abnormalities that might be leading to the frequent development of UTIs. 

Last Updated: April 17, 2020