UTI test used by doctors ‘gives wrong result in many cases’

01 May 2017

Urinary tract infections (UTI) typically involve bladder pain and an intense burning sensation when passing urine.

A test used by doctors to diagnose urinary tract infections gives a negative result in around a quarter of cases, researchers claim.

Urinary tract infections (UTI), such as cystitis, typically involve bladder pain and an intense burning sensation when passing urine. UTI symptoms account for between two and five percent of women's GP appointments, and in 60-80 percent of cases, urine testing reveals a bacterial infection.

Now, research conducted by academics at the University of Ghent, Belgium, has found that the majority of women who believe they have a UTI probably do have a bacterial infection, even when nothing is detected by standard urine testing.

Lead author Dr Stefan Heytens states doctors may assume that women with negative tests do not have a bacterial infection.

"A substantial percentage of women visiting their GP with symptoms of a UTI, who test negative for a bacterial infection, are told they have no infection and sent home without treatment," he said. "On the other hand, women with a positive test might be given a short course of antibiotics to treat their infection."

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For the study, Dr Heytens and colleagues investigated the results of urine samples of over 300 Belgian women, including 220 who were visiting their GP for UTI symptoms, and 86 healthy volunteers.

Urine samples were tested in the standard way to see whether any bacteria grew, and it was found that among the women with UTI symptoms, standard testing detected bacteria in 80.9 percent of urine samples. But another more sensitive test found evidence of E. coli in 95.9 percent of samples and S. saphrophyticus in 8.6 per cent. Combining the results of both tests found evidence of an infection in 98.2 percent of women with symptoms.

"In this study, we used a more sensitive test to look for bacteria that commonly cause UTIs. We found E. coli in nearly all women complaining of symptoms, even if they had a negative traditional urine culture. This suggests that if a woman has these symptoms, she probably does have a UTI," added Dr Heytens.

The researchers hope to do further investigation into the issue and plan to study whether women with UTI symptoms but a negative urine test would benefit from treatment with antibiotics.

The full study has been published in journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

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