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UTI or STI? Hospitals Misdiagnose 50 Percent of the Time

 

Pain while peeing is a common reason women seek medical care, but be warned that if you go to the ER, there's a 50 percent chance they'll misdiagnose you. A new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, found that emergency room docs confuse sexually transmitted diseases for urinary tract infections over half the time. (Is Your Gyno Giving You the Right Sexual Health Tests?)

If you have pain down yonder, especially when using the bathroom, you might assume you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). However, there are a lot of other illnesses that can cause pelvic pain and problems with urination—most notably sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea. But doctors are missing this distinction, said Michelle Hecker, M.D., an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and co-author of the study, in a press release.

UTIs seem to be the go-to diagnosis for women, regardless of symptoms, the researchers found. In fact, they wrote that 24 percent of the women diagnosed with UTIs had no UTI-related symptoms at all. Yet doctors still prescribed every one an antibiotic, despite the fact their urine cultures came back negative for harmful bacteria. The dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics have been well reported, and include the potential of making women resistant to those antibiotics and killing off good bacteria in their guts. (In fact, Antibiotic Resistance Is Now a Global Threat.)

Another issue is that by treating it as a UTI, the doctors are allowing the underlying STIs to fester. Untreated STIs can cause lifelong health problems, including infertility.

And there really is no reason to confuse the two so often, Hecker said. In spite of some overlap of symptoms, simple diagnostic tests exist that can accurately identify which type of infection a person has. She recommended that hospitals change their testing protocols, but, in the meantime, if you end up in the ER with pelvic pain, don't automatically concede to the fact that you have a UTI. Ask questions about the diagnosis and make sure they're testing your urine for other infections as well. (See 6 Things Your Pee Is Trying to Tell You.)

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