UTIs are a very common infection that occur when bacteria enter your urethra and infect your urinary tract. According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in five women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. The symptoms of a UTI may not always appear right away, and often include pain while urinating, a frequent and urgent need to urinate, and a burning sensation when engaging in sexual activity.
There are a couple of ways to determine whether you have a UTI, such as by undergoing a urinalysis test conducted by a health care provider, or through an at-home UTI test. Let's learn more about these different methods so that you can decide which type of test is the best option for you.
What is a urinalysis test?
A urinalysis test refers to tests that are carried out on your urine sample to examine your health status. Medical personnel and other healthcare providers typically use this test to determine the presence of a UTI in their patients.
As opposed to at-home UTI testing, a urinalysis test is an umbrella term that examines a variety of components of your urine that determine your overall health.
What tests make up urinalysis?
The tests that you undergo in a urinalysis largely depend on your symptoms and underlying health conditions. Generally speaking, a healthcare provider or laboratory technician conducts a urinalysis to examine your urine according to the following three core areas:
- Color or appearance
- Microscopic findings
- Chemical findings
A urinalysis is therefore a more in-depth analysis of your urine, as opposed to at-home UTI test strips.
Urine color and appearance: Healthcare providers will generally check whether your urine is clear, cloudy, or pale in color, as well as whether it is an entirely different color. An unusual urine color can be a sign of an infection or disease.
Cloudy urine can also indicate that you have a UTI, an STD or STI, or that you are dehydrated.
Microscopic findings: A urinalysis test can also involve examining your urine sample through a microscope to look for tiny substances such as germs or bacteria that can bring about an infection.This is an in-depth microscopic analysis of your urine sample to detect for any form of infection in the urinary tract.
Chemical findings: Healthcare providers and lab technicians also often use dipsticks to detect certain chemical substances in a urine sample. The chemical pads of the strip in question being used change color when the strip comes into contact with certain substances.
At-home UTI tests can also be used to detect simple things like nitrites and leukocytes in urine as well, but these tests are generally not as in-depth as a urinalysis that can detect for the presence of infectious bacteria, yeast, and abnormalities in your red and white blood cells. That’s why taking an at-home UTI test when you feel like you’re experiencing it can be a great way to treat a UTI at an early stage before it develops into a full-blown infection. If the results of your at-home UTI test in fact do show that you have a UTI, you can then visit your healthcare provider for treatment. Because of this, at-home tests can act as a great precautionary mechanism when you first starting feeling the symptoms of a UTI.
Are urinalysis tests common?
Of course, they are quite common. Urinalysis tests assess different aspects of your urine and they are easy to conduct. If you have access to a fully functional laboratory in a medical facility, you are good to go.
Do urine culture and urinalysis tests mean the same thing?
A urinalysis and a urine culture are not the same thing. A urine culture is a more in-depth test that helps healthcare providers diagnose infections of the urinary tract. Urine culture involves growing bacteria from a urine sample in a laboratory. They are not part of routine urinalysis tests, but you may be directed to get a urine culture if the results of your urinalysis indicate a likelihood that you’ve contracted a UTI. A urine culture can determine the type of bacterium that caused the UTI. while a urinalysis can only indicate if you have a UTI or not. You are generally directed to get a urine culture so that your doctor can understand the type of bacteria causing your UTI and prescribe the correct type of antibiotic for treating the UTI.
How do I prepare for a urinalysis?
Preparing for a urinalysis is quite different from using UTI test strips at home. You’ll need to visit a medical laboratory or doctor, drink enough water, and produce a urine sample after. Drinking too much water before the test can dilute your results. If you are on any supplements or medications it would be good to inform your doctor about this prior to taking the test because they can affect results.
On some occasions, your healthcare provider may want you to collect a sample of your first urine after waking in the morning. However, this largely depends on the reason for conducting a urinalysis test.
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