Health Library

Urine Culture

Test Overview

A urine culture is a test to find germs (such as bacteria) in the urine that can cause an infection. Bacteria can enter through the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection (UTI).

A sample of urine is added to a substance that promotes the growth of germs. If no germs grow, the culture is negative. If germs grow, the culture is positive. The type of germ may be identified using a microscope or chemical tests.

UTIs are more common in women and girls than in men. This may be partly because the female urethra is shorter and closer to the anus. This allows bacteria from the intestines to come into contact more easily with the urethra. Men also have an antibacterial substance in their prostate gland that lowers their risk.

Why It Is Done

A urine culture may be done to find out if symptoms like pain or burning when urinating are from a urinary tract infection (UTI). The test can also find the cause of a UTI, help determine the best treatment for a UTI, and find out whether the treatment has worked.

How To Prepare

You will need to collect a urine sample. You will need to drink enough fluids and avoid urinating so that you will be able to collect a urine sample.

The first urine of the day is best because bacterial levels will be higher. Avoid urinating just before having this test.

How It Is Done

You may be asked to collect a clean-catch midstream urine sample for testing.

Clean-catch midstream urine collection

This method helps protect the urine sample from germs that are normally found on the penis or vagina.

  1. Wash your hands before you collect the urine.
  2. If the collection cup has a lid, remove it carefully. Set the lid down with the inner surface up. Don't touch the inside of the cup with your fingers.
  3. Clean the area around your genitals.
    • A man should retract his foreskin, if he has one, and clean the head of his penis with medicated towelettes or swabs.
    • A woman should spread open the genital folds of skin with one hand. Then she can use her other hand to clean the area around the urethra with medicated towelettes or swabs. She should wipe the area from front to back so bacteria from the anus isn't wiped across the urethra.
  4. Start to urinate into the toilet or urinal. A woman should hold apart the genital folds of skin while she urinates.
  5. After the urine has flowed for several seconds, place the collection cup into the urine stream. Collect about 2 fl oz (59 mL) of urine without stopping the flow of urine.
  6. Move the cup out the urine stream. Don't touch the rim of the cup to your genital area. Don't get toilet paper, pubic hair, stool (feces), menstrual blood, or anything else in the urine sample.
  7. Finish urinating into the toilet or urinal.
  8. Carefully replace and tighten the lid on the cup. Then return the cup to the lab. If you collect the urine at home and can't get it to the lab in an hour, refrigerate it.

Other collection methods

A health professional may collect a urine sample by placing a urinary catheter into the bladder. This method is sometimes used to collect urine from a person in the hospital who is very ill or who can't provide a clean-catch sample. Using a catheter to collect a urine sample reduces the chance of getting bacteria from the skin or genital area in the urine sample.

Collecting a urine sample from a small child or baby may be done by using a special plastic bag with tape around its opening (a U bag). The bag is attached around the child's genitals until he or she urinates (usually within an hour). Then the bag is carefully removed. To collect a urine sample from a very sick baby, a doctor may insert a needle through the baby's belly directly into the bladder. (This is called a suprapubic tap.)

How long the test takes

The test will take a few minutes.

How It Feels

This test usually doesn't cause any pain or discomfort.

Risks

There are no known risks from having this test.

Results

Urine culture results are usually ready in 1 to 3 days. But some germs take longer to grow in the culture. So results may not be available for several days.

Urine culture

Normal:

No bacteria or other germs (such as fungi) grow in the culture. The culture result is negative.

Abnormal:

Organisms (usually bacteria) grow in the culture. The culture result is positive.

Credits

Current as of: June 17, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine