How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat UTIs?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 23, 2024
3 min read

If you think you might have a urinary tract infection, you’ll tell your doctor about your symptoms and start with a urine test. You might need some other tests, too.

  • A urinalysis checks your urine sample for white blood cellsblood, and bacteria.
  • urine culture is another test that can find the type of bacteria that caused the infection, which will help your doctor choose an antibiotic to give you.

There are two types of UTIs: simple and complicated.

Simple UTIs happen in healthy people with normal urinary tracts.

Complicated UTIs happen in people with abnormal urinary tracts or when antibiotics cannot treat the bacteria causing the infection. People who get UTIs often usually have complicated ones.

If you have complicated UTIs, your doctor may refer you to a urologist for further testing to find out why you are getting UTIs. In this case, you may get tests such as:

  • Urine culture and urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or ultrasound to show your urinary tract
  • Cystoscopy, in which your doctor inserts a long, thin instrument into your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body) to look inside your bladder
  • Intravenous pyelogram, an X-ray test that uses dye so your doctor can better see your urinary system. This is rarely done now.

You wouldn’t get those tests if you have a simple UTI and don’t tend to get them a lot.

If you’re pregnant and you have a UTI, be sure to see your doctor promptly before it causes problems with your pregnancy.

Bacteria cause most UTIs. If that’s the case for you, then you’ll need to take antibiotics.

Young woman with a simple bladder infection might get an antibiotic prescription that lasts for just a few days. If your symptoms come back, you might get more tests to rule out other problems.

You might take antibiotics for a longer time, depending on what caused the infection and how long you’ve had your UTI, or if you have an infection that won’t go away. Men usually have to take antibiotics for weeks if the infection is in their prostate. That’s important to do to make sure the infection doesn’t cause serious problems.

You’ll need to take all the pills in your prescription and follow the instructions to take them on time -- even after you start to feel better. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist. You should also drink lots of water to help wash out the bacteria from your urinary system.

If you have pain from your UTI, you might want to take medicine for that -- and try a heating pad, too. If your symptoms do not go away after you take your antibiotics, you may need more testing.

If you have bladder pain and pain when you urinate, you may get a bladder anesthetic to curb irritation of the bladder and urethra. Depending on which bladder pain medication you take, it may change the color of your urine to reddish-orange or even blue.

It’s not likely that you’ll need an operation. But you might if your UTI is due to an anatomical problem.  Or you could need an operation if a blockage, such as a kidney stone or enlarged prostate, is the cause.