Can I rely on the physical exam to rule out symptomatic urinary tract infection (UTI) in my hospitalized patient?

Suprapubic tenderness, costovertebral angle tenderness (CVAT) and fever seem to be more helpful in ruling in than ruling out infection. And, before you hang your hat on the available data, remember that most of the studies involve women with uncomplicated UTI in primary care or emergency department settings, not our older hospitalized patients at risk of complicated infections.  With these caveats in mind….

Suprapubic tenderness has been reported in only about 15-20% of women with acute cystitis. 1

CVAT has been associated with symptomatic UTI but with only a weakly positive LR (1.7, 1.1-2.5), and an insignificant negative LR. 2  In a single center study involving hospitalized patients (mean age 53 y), CVAT was either absent or “obscure” in about 10% of patients with acute pyelonephritis on CT.3

Fever was associated with a positive likelihood ratio (1.6, 1.0-2.6) by 1 systematic study 2 but not another, 4 with insignificant negative LR in both. Fever was also absent in about 10% of hospitalized patients with pyelonephritis in the single center study above.3

So, when evaluating a patient with possible symptomatic UTI (particularly cystitis), the presence of physical exam findings  may be more helpful than their absence.

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  1. Kurowski K. The woman with dysuria. Am Fam Physician 1998, 57:2155-2164.
  2. Bent S, Nallamothu BK, Simel DL, et al. Does this woman have an acute uncomplicated urinary tract infection? JAMA 2002;287:2701-2710.
  3. Lee Y-J, Cho S, Kim SR. Unilateral and bilateral acute pyelonephritis: differences in clinical presentation, progress and outcome. Postgrad Med 2014;90:80-85.
  4. Median-Bombardo D, Jover-Palmer A. Does clinical examination aid in the diagnosis of urinary tract infections in women? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Family Practice 2011;12:111.


Can I rely on the physical exam to rule out symptomatic urinary tract infection (UTI) in my hospitalized patient?

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