Complicated vs. Uncomplicated UTIs: What’s the Difference?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDSeptember 29th, 2021

Complicated vs. Uncomplicated UTIs: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI)—possibly including bloody, strong-smelling urine or a burning sensation while urinating—you may have started researching what can cause UTIs and how they can be treated. In your research, you might have seen that UTIs are often divided into two categories: uncomplicated and complicated. So, what is the difference between the two, and how does this distinction affect diagnosis and treatment? We’ve got the answers you need.

What Is an Uncomplicated UTI?

An uncomplicated urinary tract infection is generally one occurring in a patient who:

  • Is female;
  • Is healthy;
  • Is premenopausal;
  • Is not pregnant; AND
  • Has an anatomically and functionally normal urinary tract

UTIs are very common in females. In fact, approximately 50% to 60% of women will develop at least one UTI at some point during their lifetime. One of the reasons why females are more prone to UTIs than males is that they have a shorter urethra, which means that bacteria don’t have to travel as far to reach their bladder.

What Is a Complicated UTI?

Given the definition provided in the previous section, a complicated urinary tract infection is by default one occurring in a male (even if none of the following circumstances apply) or in a female who:

  • Is postmenopausal;
  • Is pregnant;
  • Has an anatomically or functionally abnormal urinary tract (for example, bladder outlet obstruction, a colovesical fistula, hydronephrosis, neurogenic bladder, stone disease, or vesicoureteral reflux);
  • Has a foreign body within her urinary tract (for example, a catheter or a stent); OR
  • Has one or more comorbidities or conditions requiring special consideration (for example, diabetes, immunodeficiency, renal insufficiency, or a prior organ transplant)

Differences in Diagnosis & Treatment

It’s important that medical providers distinguish between uncomplicated and complicated UTIs, since the two types of infections can require different diagnostic and treatment approaches. With regard to diagnosis, if a practitioner suspects a complicated UTI, he or she will likely order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen or pelvis
  • Cystoscopy
  • Ultrasound of the bladder or kidneys
  • Ureteroscopy

These tests can help determine exactly what is causing the infection. In contrast, uncomplicated UTIs generally do not require this extent of diagnostic testing and evaluation.

With regard to treatment, Bboth uncomplicated and complicated UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics. However, while uncomplicated UTIs can often be resolved using a short course of antibiotics, complicated UTIs typically require a longer course of treatment. Notably, because overuse and misuse of antibiotics can each lead to antibiotic resistance (sometimes referred to as bacterial resistance), it’s important to be careful when deciding what medication to prescribe and for how long. With this in mind, medical providers will often use antibiograms to help determine how to best treat complicated UTIs.

At-Home Treatment for UTIs

If you think that you might have a UTI, it’s important to promptly seek treatment, since an untreated infection could lead to permanent kidney damage, sepsis, or a number of other dangerous complications. Luckily, you won’t need to travel far (or at all) for treatment. That’s because DispatchHealth can treat a UTI in the comfort of your own home. We’re a trusted mobile healthcare provider, and our goal is to build the world’s largest in-home care system.

[availability_widget] DispatchHealth’s skilled providers can treat almost everything that an emergency room can. And if you’re worried about the cost of an in-home visit, don’t be. Our services cost about the same amount as a traditional urgent care visit, and we’re in-network with most health insurance plans.

To request a visit from DispatchHealth, all you need to do is call us, visit our website, or download our mobile app. No pre-registration is required. Once you’ve provided us with a few details about your condition, we’ll schedule an appointment, and you can relax until we arrive within just a few hours. During our visit, our experienced practitioners will ask you about your symptoms, perform a physical examination and any necessary diagnostic testing, and develop a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific needs.

* Please note: For life-threatening and time-sensitive injuries and illnesses, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. DispatchHealth shouldn’t be used in a life-threatening emergency and doesn’t replace a primary care provider.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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