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Urinary tract infections: Pathology review



Renal system


Renal and ureteral disorders
Bladder and urethral disorders
Renal system pathology review

Urinary tract infections: Pathology review


0 / 8 complete

USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE

8 questions

A 23-year-old woman presents to the primary care clinic due to a burning sensation with urination. The symptoms started 3 days ago and now cause the patient to wake up multiple times at night to urinate. Past medical history is unremarkable. The patient is sexually active with their spouse. Physical examination is unremarkable and vital signs are within normal limits. Urinalysis is positive for leukocytes and leukocyte esterase. Urine culture reveals growth of Gram-positive cocci. Which of the following is a feature of the causative organism most likely responsible for this patient’s condition?  


Two people came to the Nephrology ward.

The first one is 25 year old Carmen who recently returned from her honeymoon and now complains of suprapubic pain, dysuria and urinary frequency.

The other one is 35 year old Pamela who has had dysuria, fever, nausea and flank pain for the past 2 days.

On physical exam, she has costovertebral angle tenderness.

CBC and urinalysis were done for both people.

They showed that Carmen had a normal white blood cell count, but on the dipstick test, leukocyte esterase and nitrites were both positive.

For Pamela, the white blood count was high, the dipstick test showed positive leukocyte esterase and nitrites, and on microscopy, there’s white blood cell casts in the urine.

Both Pamela and Carmen have urinary tract infections, or UTIs.

This includes the lower portion of the tract like the bladder and urethra, and the upper portion of the tract like the kidneys and ureters.

UTIs are almost always caused by an ascending infection, where bacteria moves from the rectal area to the urethra and then migrate up the urethra and into the bladder.

Normally, bacteria would be washed away with urination, but in some cases, like with E. Coli, that doesn’t happen.

Instead, E. Coli uses little thread-like extensions called fimbriae to bind the uroepithelial cells and colonize the bladder mucosa, causing cystitis.

From the bladder, the infection can go up the ureter and into the kidney, where they attract neutrophils into the renal interstitium, causing pyelonephritis.

As neutrophils die off, they make their way through the urinary tract and appear in the urine.

The neutrophils and the surrounding inflammatory protein debris is even “casted” into the shape of the tubule, creating white blood cell casts and hyaline casts.

For your exams remember that other factors like sexual intercourse or an indwelling catheter can also let bacteria into the urinary tract.

So remember, in ascending infections bacteria moves from the rectal area to the urethra and then migrate up the urethra and into the bladder.

In most cases, ascending infections are caused by Escherichia coli, but other bacteria like Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Klebsiella pneumoniae or Proteus mirabilis can also cause ascending infections.

Now, descending infections are also possible in rare cases.

This is when the kidneys get infected via hematogenous infection, or spread through the bloodstream.

In this case, acute pyelonephritis can be a consequence of septicemia or bacteremia.

In these situations, the most common organisms are Staphylococcus species and again E. coli.

Okay, let’s talk about cystitis.

There are some risk factors associated with cystitis.

It’s more common in female individuals, because they have a shorter urethra, making it easier for the bacteria to ascend and because the urethra is closer to the rectum, where the primary culprits “live”.

Another risk factor is frequent sexual intercourse, which can lead to “honeymoon cystitis,” especially in younger female individuals.

Remember this type of infection is often caused by Staphylococcus saprophyticus.

Other risk factors include diabetes mellitus, indwelling catheter, and impaired bladder emptying, which can happen when there’s a bladder tumor, for example.

Symptoms include dysuria, which is painful urination, urinary frequency and urgency, and suprapubic pain.

CBC, urinalysis, and urine cultures are done to confirm the diagnosis and find the culprit.

On the CBC, the white blood count is normal.

The appearance of the urine is often cloudy and the dipstick test shows positive leukocyte esterase, which signifies pyuria, or the presence of white blood cell in the urine.

Dipstick also shows positive nitrites, and this is caused by enterobacteriaceae, like E.coli, Proteus and Klebsiella, converting normal urine nitrates into nitrites.

On microscopy, there are more than 10 white blood cells per high power field.

The best way to identify the organism for treatment is to do a urine culture.

Now, sometimes cystitis can be mistaken for urethritis, which is the inflammation of the urethra.

Urethritis can present with the same symptoms as cystitis, but the difference is that urethritis is most commonly caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis.

Both of these are sexually transmitted infections.

With both, urinalysis shows sterile pyuria, meaning that leukocyte esterase is positive, but when cultures are done, no bacteria are found.


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common bacterial infections that can occur in any part of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. They are most commonly caused by bacteria, such as E.coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus mirabilis, and Staphylococcus saprophyticus.

Symptoms include pain or burning sensation when urinating, frequent urge to urinate, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, pain or pressure in the lower abdomen or back, and in more severe cases, fever or chills.

Risk factors for UTIs include female gender, sex, diabetes mellitus, indwelling catheters, pregnancy, and kidney stones. Complications of untreated or recurrent UTIs can include cystitis, pyelonephritis, and sepsis. Treatment typically involves a course of antibiotics and plenty of fluids to help flush out the bacteria.

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