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Urinary tract infections: Urine testing and when to treat a urinary tract infection (UTI)

Urinary Tract Infections

Urine testing and when to treat a urinary tract infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also called bladder infections. UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics which kill germs (bacteria). Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics (they can't be killed by antibiotics anymore), so you should only use antibiotics when you have an infection. Because antibiotics can have side effects and allergic reactions, they should only be used when you have a UTI.

You can have bacteria in your urine even if you don't have a UTI. This is common in older adults, and does not need to be treated with antibiotics unless there are symptoms.


The main symptoms of a UTI can include one or more of these symptoms:

  • A burning feeling when you pee (urinate or pass water).
  • Feeling like you have to urinate often.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Pain in the lower belly (abdomen) or back.
  • Blood in your urine.


Your healthcare provider will likely test your urine when:

  • When you have symptoms of a UTI (see symptoms).
  • Before some bladder or kidney procedures.
  • When you are pregnant.

No Testing

Your healthcare provider should not test your urine:

  • When you do not have symptoms of a UTI (see symptoms).
  • When your urine changes colour or has a smell, and you don't have UTI symptoms.

Cloudy or smelly urine usually means you need to drink more fluids.

When your health changes with no symptoms of a UTI

In older people, changes in your mood, balance, or how much energy you have, are not usually caused by a UTI. Before you have a urine test for infection, your healthcare provider will look at other more common causes of health changes, like:

  • Not drinking enough fluid (being dehydrated).
  • Not getting enough sleep.
  • Side effects from medicines.
  • High or low blood sugar.
  • Depression.
  • Constipation.
  • Untreated pain.
  • Other infections.

When you have a UTI

Your healthcare provider may start antibiotics before they get the test results back, or they may also decide to wait until your tests are back before prescribing antibiotics to you. See your healthcare provider if you've been taking the antibiotics for 2 days and your symptoms aren't getting better.

To see this information online and learn more, visit


For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: September 30, 2020

Author: Pharmacy Services, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.