How Accurate Are Home (OTC) UTI Tests?

If you find you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), there can be a lot of discomfort that you want to get diagnosed as quickly as possible. With this, you might bypass the doctor and go for an OTC test, which you can pick up more conveniently.

While these home tests will give you a result, their reliability percent is relatively low, and they aren’t created to diagnose you if you have symptoms, so they are more useful for screening than identifying a UTI.

To find out how these tests work and how you can get diagnosed more effectively, read on below with our helpful guide. 

Table of Contents

How Does an Over-The-Counter UTI Test Work? 

You can find these tests in many pharmacies and even online outlets, which will be advertised as looking for different parameters. These may include glucose, nitrite, protein, PH levels, ketone, and leukocytes that can be observed by a healthcare professional.

Most of these tests will require you to urinate into a cup, then dip the strip into it and wait around 120 seconds, where specific colors will appear that act as indicators for certain conditions. You can refer to the chart that is provided as a reference.

You might find other tests that require you to download an app to record your results, where these may be referred to your general practitioner if you have been prescribed it, though you may get the above example instead. 

You can then take the results to a doctor or pharmacy, and they’ll be able to identify any issues and recommend treatment in the form of medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. You can take these four times daily and drink plenty of fluids to pass urine regularly during the day.

How Accurate Are Home (OTC) Urinary Tract Infection Tests?

While these tests can be useful for those who suffer from recurring UTIs, they can, at times, effectively check for white blood cells and bacteria in the urine. Different factors can affect these, such as any medication you’re on.

Their accuracy is said to be around 30% reliable, and some have even recommended that these strip tests be abandoned as being the primary method of diagnosis, especially with those who have lower urinary tract symptoms. 

This can be down to needing a more diverse collection technique, and it gets even worse if you have traces of protein or vitamin C that you might have through supplements. 

This will create a false positive that makes it void or misses a more serious underlying problem like kidney disease. This is why sending off a sample to a lab where it is sealed and checked for bacteria or fungi over a 24-48 hour time period. 

Going for an Examination

As we have mentioned, the lab examination process can be more effective as these tests can also identify the bacteria and put them under susceptibility tests to work out which antibiotic will be more effective against them.

Once this is done, the results can be sent to a doctor, who can explain the concentration of this bacteria and what medication you should use. However, this doesn’t make the process completely watertight, as some testing can be inaccurate in around 50% of cases.

This may mean giving a negative result even though you have the symptoms. This can be affected because your sample needs to contain more of a culture to detect the bacteria or fungi required for the diagnosis.

It may even be attributed to the design of the test itself, as when it was made, it had an 80% accuracy for diagnosing acute kidney infections. The threshold still used today is too high to detect many lower urinary tract infections and bladder and urethral infections. 

What About PCR UTI Tests? 

Often found and given out in doctors’ practices, these are other methods that copy a portion of DNA from a urine sample to find the specific pathogen causing the infection and identify the best and worst antibiotics to use for the condition.

The main benefit of this test over the typical culture urinalysis is that it can be performed at an office, and the results can be given out on the same day so that treatment can begin immediately. 

However, their accuracy is around the 36% mark, so they are only slightly more accurate than the typical OTC test. The flaw here is in the sample itself, as microorganisms can continue to grow if no preservatives are used to slow this down.

This means it is quite possible that you could be misdiagnosed, given the incorrect medication, which could prolong your symptoms and lead to more severe issues. 

Tips for an Effective Diagnosis

While this threshold may seem troubling, those issues could be minimized, so you have a more accurate diagnosis with a broader culture test, so these can be applied to both you and the testing done on your sample.

Tips for home testing or screening can be found below, as these may be useful to those who suffer from UTIs more often than others.

For Home Testing 

First of all, the time you do the test can be significant, so if you take the test first thing in the morning, this is because your urine is at its most concentrated as you haven’t passed any for a significant amount of time. 

If you find that you get a negative result and are sure of the symptoms and have suffered from an infection before, you should look to get further testing, where you want to get a mid-steam urine sample.

This means that you don’t collect the sample at the start of the end of your urine cycle, as this reduces the chance of the sample being contaminated by bacteria from your hands or the skin around the urethra.

As well as this, you want to make sure you use a tightly sealed container and wash your hands and genitals (if needed) before you take the sample.

For Screening

If you’ve followed the advice above, there are better chances that a lab test will diagnose your infection, so while this is the only real way of testing for UTIs and knowing that they can be flawed, you must get different views on the outcome of your results.

When you give your sample to your doctor, be sure to ask questions about the testing process and be sure to ask about the susceptibility tests, as you’ll know from previous infections that sometimes your prescription isn’t as effective as you’d hoped.

If you get a result you aren’t satisfied with, this doesn’t mean you have to accept it, as you have every right to have your views on a treatment plan. You can either ask for another test to be done or get a second opinion that may suggest other forms of treatment.

Medications 

Let’s say you have been prescribed antibiotics and told to take these 3-4 times a day until the infection clears up. If this is the case, though, these may not be effective and depend on how long it has been left untreated.

If left for too long, these infections can cause kidney infections which can lead to damage, and if your symptoms don’t clear up, you may be prescribed a different kind of antibiotic. 

This dependence leads to issues such as antibiotic resistance, which makes it even harder to treat UTIs effectively if you suffer from these more than the average person. This is why many turn to alternative remedies.

What Are These Alternative Remedies?  

While there is research to find ways to treat UTIs without or alongside antibiotics, this area is still being looked into, but it does look promising. While these are taking place, try out some of these remedies at home alongside your course of antibiotics.

The first course is to drink plenty of water, as this can be an effective way of flushing out harmful bacteria, which is why you want to aim for around 6-8 eight-ounce glasses per day. While this can be painful for many, it’s important to pee only when you need to.

You can also take advantage of probiotics which can help with digestion and immunity, as these can restore good bacteria and could reduce the chances of the infection recurring. 

You can also take in more vitamin C, wear looser clothing, and practice good hygiene, ensuring your products don’t cause irritation. You can try gentle cleansers to prevent worsening sensitive areas like your genitals.  

Knowing When to See a Doctor

Those who have these infections more often than others may already know what the symptoms are and when they need to seek treatment. Others may determine these as temporary discomfort but should take these symptoms seriously as they can worsen.

These symptoms are:

  • Lower back pain
  • Bloody urine
  • Bad-smelling or cloudy-looking urine
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Urine leakage
  • An urge to urinate more often, resulting in little urine coming out
  • Burning sensation when peeing

If these are ignored, these can cause more serious issues like kidney infections which can cause upper back pain, nausea, and recurrent fever. This can damage your kidneys, and the symptoms can occur mere hours after infection. 

Who Are More at Risk for UTIs? 

While they can affect anyone, women are thirty times more likely to contract UTIs than men, and this is due to the urethra, which is shorter, which makes it much easier for bacteria to enter the bladder.

They are also more likely to develop an infection if they are sexually active, use certain types of birth control, have gone through menopause, have kidney stones, are pregnant, or have diabetes. 

You are identified as having recurring UTIs if you get two in six months or three in a year, and a doctor can run tests and ask about your lifestyle to see how the infection is caused. Women, in particular, may be given antibiotics after sex or at the early signs of an infection.

For men, though, there can be complications that make them more susceptible to infections, such as benign prostate enlargement that can display symptoms similar to UTIs. This is why getting any symptoms checked out is vital, especially for men over 50. 

If You Have Doubts About the Test

It’s important to realize that symptoms like these can be personal for many reasons, so when your healthcare provider asks for a background on your lifestyle, this can be uncomfortable to delve into. Still, it is very important for making a diagnosis.

With this, a doctor may do a physical exam, checking for tenderness in your mid-back below the ribs by feeling around the kidneys. They will also check for tenderness when pressing on your lower abdomen, around your bladder.

If your doctor suspects you have a yeast infection or attributes this to an enlarged prostate, they may check even further on the condition of these areas and discharge if it’s a pelvic or vaginal exam. 

This is why the answers you give can be significant, as a doctor can make a firm diagnosis, even if you have a symptom that you think isn’t worth mentioning, as these can be more relevant than you think. 

How Can DrHouse Help You?

DrHouse can help provide you with a virtual doctor’s visit to go over your symptoms and determine whether or not it is in fact a UTI that you have.

Our clinicians can help diagnose, treat, and advise you on the best action to take for your particular case. With DrHouse, you can get a personalized treatment plan and medication prescribed to help you in your recovery.

We provide convenient, safe, and secure telehealth services for our patients and are available 24/7 and on-demand so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns about your UTI!

Closing Thoughts 

While UTIs can be a very uncomfortable experience, it’s essential to check your symptoms regularly and get yearly checkups, which is even more critical as you get older and are more prone to developing an infection.

By doing this, you can build a good relationship with your doctor to take preventative measures to avoid the chances of anything recurring or worsening. 

It’s also a good idea to take any recommendations on changes to lifestyle that may be particularly problematic. Even though these can feel sudden, they can show you ways to make the process easier and may refer you to a specialist for the long term.  

Sources:

Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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