13. Recognizing Urinary Tract Infections in SCI Patients

Actionable Nuggets for SCI (3rd ed., 2016)

The Problem:Woman sitting in wheelchair

Individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) have an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs), particularly if they use indwelling or suprapubic catherization.  Left untreated, infection can lead to life-threatening autonomic dysreflexia or sepsis, whereas overtreatment contributes to antibiotic resistance.  The diagnosis of UTI is complicated in SCI.   Irritative voiding symptoms (dysuria, urgency, polyuria) may not exist due to sensory impairment.  Furthermore, asymptomatic pyuria and/or bacteruria is common in people with SCI and does not necessarily constitute a UTI.

Actionable Nugget

Diagnosis of UTI in SCI requires three criteria: (1) significant bacteriuria; (2) pyuria; AND (3) signs and symptoms.

Evidence-based Best Practice:

It is important to distinguish between asymptomatic bacterial colonization (which is virtually inevitable in SCI), and symptomatic infection.  Definitive diagnosis of UTI in SCI therefore requires all three criteria listed below:

  1. Significant bacteriuria
    • ≥ 105 cfu/ml in those using intermittent catheterization
    • ≥ 107 cfu/ml for those using external condom collection
    • ≥ 108 cfu/ml for spontaneous bladder management
    • Any detectable concentration in those using indwelling catheters (including urethral and suprapubic catheters)
  2. Pyuria
    • ≥ 50 WBC/hpf
  3. Signs/Symptoms
    • One or more of: (a) discomfort or pain over the kidney or bladder, or dysuria; (b) increased urinary incontinence; (c) increased spasticity; (d) autonomic dysreflexia; (e) cloudy urine with increased odour; (f) fever, malaise, lethargy, or sense of unease.

Quantitative criteria for significant bacteriuria in SCI have excellent sensitivity and specificity for predicting UTI.  It is essential to consider the type of bladder drainage when evaluating bacteriuria.  Recent evidence shows that urine dipstick testing may prove as accurate as microscopy.

Key Reference:

    Grabe, M., Bartoletti, R., Johansen, T. E. B., Associate, T. C. G., Çek, M., Associate, B. K. G., & Naber, K. G. (2015). Guidelines on urological Infections by European Association of Urology. Retrieved from http://uroweb.org/wp-content/uploads/19-Urological-infections_LR2.pdf

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    McKibben, M. J., Seed, P., Ross, S. S., & Borawski, K. M. (2015). Urinary Tract Infection and Neurogenic Bladder. Urologic Clinics of North America, 42(4), 527–536. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ucl.2015.05.006
    Schurch, B., Tawadros, C., & Carda, S. (2015). Dysfunction of lower urinary tract in patients with spinal cord injury. Handbook of Clinical Neurology130, 247-67. Elsevier.
    Sekulić, A., Karadžov-Nikolić, A., Bukumirić, Z., Trajković, G., Ćorac, A., Janković, S., & Milićević, S. (2015). Analysis of the factors influencing development of urinary tract infections in patients with spinal cord injuries. Vojnosanitetski pregled72(12), 1074-1079.
    Nicolle, L. E. (2014a). Urinary tract infections in patients with spinal injuries. Current Infectious Disease Reports, 16(1), 390. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11908-013-0390-9
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