Urinary tract infections. Does the smell really tell?

J Gerontol Nurs. 2004 Jun;30(6):4-9. doi: 10.3928/0098-9134-20040601-04.


Asymptomatic bacteriuria is considered a transient and benign condition in the geriatric population. Before a diagnosis of a urinary tract infection (UTI) can be made, symptoms and significant bacteriuria must be present. One of these symptoms is malodorous urine. Other symptoms of a UTI, typical in the younger population, have been found to be absent or misleading in the older adult population. Though early detection of UTIs improves outcomes, unnecessary laboratory tests are costly and time-consuming, and may encourage inappropriate antibiotic therapy. The purpose of this study was to determine if urine odor is an accurate predictor of a UTI in the older adult incontinent nursing home population. Ninety-seven recently wet incontinence pads of residents in six Midwestern nursing homes were evaluated for odor within 1 hour of voiding. These results were compared to microscopy and culture results of clean-catch urine samples from these individuals. Defining a UTI as either bacteriuria or bacteriuria and pyuria, using urine odor to identify a UTI resulted in error in one third of cases. Results of this study indicate smell of urine in incontinence pads may be an absent or misleading symptom for UTIs in elderly nursing home residents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bacteriuria / diagnosis
  • Bacteriuria / nursing
  • Bacteriuria / urine
  • Humans
  • Nursing Homes
  • Odorants
  • Pyuria / diagnosis
  • Pyuria / microbiology
  • Pyuria / nursing
  • Pyuria / urine
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology
  • Urinary Tract Infections / nursing*
  • Urinary Tract Infections / urine*
  • Urine / chemistry
  • Urine / microbiology