Urine Culture Overview

A urine culture is a test that can detect bacteria in your urine. This test can find and identify the germs that cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). Bacteria, which typically cause UTIs, can enter the urinary tract through the urethra. In the sterile environment of your urinary tract, these bacteria can grow rapidly and develop into an infection.

Who Is the Treatment For?

Urine cultures can locate and identify the microorganisms, typically bacteria, which cause a UTI. UTIs are more common in females than males. This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter and much closer to the anus. This makes it much easier for bacteria from the intestines to find their way into the urinal tract. Bacteria ascend the urethra into the bladder, kidney, and ureters, where they can develop into an infection.

Symptoms of a UTI

The most common symptoms of a UTI are:

  • pain and discomfort, typically in the lower back and abdominal area
  • pain when urinating
  • fever
  • feeling an urge to urinate frequently

How Is the Test Administered?

The urine for a urine culture can be collected in several different ways. The most common method for collecting urine is the midstream clean-catch method. For this, you collect your urine in a cup as you urinate. Before you begin this process, a healthcare provider will ask you to wash your hands and then wash your genitalia several times with a cleanser. Once this step has been completed, you will begin urinating into a sterile cup provided by your doctor. The cup is then given to your healthcare provider, who sends it to a lab for analysis.

A urine sample can also be collected with a urinary collection bag. This method is used most commonly with children and infants. For this procedure, a plastic bag is attached with adhesive to a girl’s labia or a boy’s penis. When the child begins urinating, the bag catches the urine, which can then be sent to a lab for analysis.

In some cases, a healthcare provider needs to collect a urine sample with a catheter. To do this, they insert a thin rubber tube through the urethra and into the bladder. Once the catheter is in place, the healthcare provider is able to collect a sample. If you already have a urinary catheter in place, a healthcare provider can collect a sample by clamping the drainage end of your catheter before it reaches the drainage bag. Once urine passes into the clamped tube, your healthcare provider uses a syringe to remove a urine sample. Urine samples cannot be taken directly from a catheter collection bag because urine that has been out of the body too long may begin to grow bacteria and will not be a good sample.

In rare cases, your doctor may need to remove a urine sample from your bladder with a needle. This procedure, called a suprapubic aspiration, is used if previous attempts at collecting an uncontaminated sample have been unsuccessful.

What Are the Risks of the Test?

Collecting a urine sample is not painful, unless you are experiencing pain while urinating because of an existing UTI. There are no risks associated with preparing for or performing a urine collection.

If your doctor requests a urine sample obtained with a catheter, you may feel some pressure and discomfort as the thin tube is inserted through your urethra. These tubes are lubricated to reduce pain and make the procedure much easier. Rarely, a catheter can create a hole in your urethra or bladder. A suprapubic aspiration can be painful, but your doctor will discuss with you options of reducing pain while performing the procedure.

Preparation

Before you begin your test, tell your doctor if you are taking or have recently taken any medications or over-the-counter vitamins, medicines, and supplements. These may interfere with the lab’s results. You do not need to prepare for a urine culture except for washing your hands and your genitalia before the clean catch collection. If you know you will need to conduct a urine collection during an appointment with your doctor, avoid urinating until you’re able to collect a sample. If you have any questions or concerns about the test, the risks, or the results, speak with your healthcare provider.

What Are the Desired Results?

For a urine culture, the urine is given several days to begin growing bacteria. The sample is then examined under a microscope. If your urine shows signs of bacteria or other organisms, you will receive a positive result. If few bacteria or organisms appear, you will receive a negative test result. The person conducting the urine culture will also be able to determine which organisms are causing the infection either by sight or through an additional test.

Results of a urine culture are typically ready in two to three days. If your results come back positive, your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic to help eliminate the harmful bacteria.