Millions of patients visit the emergency room (ER) for urinary tract infections (UTIs) each year, but research shows that most of these emergency visits are unnecessary. Although painful, UTIs are generally not life-threatening and can be treated safely and cost effectively at primary care or urgent care instead of the ER. 

The role of primary care

Primary care should be your first line of defense for managing your UTI. Although over-the-counter treatment options for UTIs do exist, it’s best to consult with your primary care provider (PCP) to ensure an appropriate diagnosis.  

Common symptoms of UTIs include:

  • Strong or frequent urges to urinate
  • Passing small amounts of urine
  • A burning feeling while urinating
  • Cloudy, red, pink, or brown urine
  • Urine with a strong smell
  • Pelvic pain (in women)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your PCP. Many PCPs, including those at Revere Health, offer same-day appointments and can help you with your UTI symptoms right away. PCPs are well-equipped to perform a urinalysis/urine culture to diagnose your UTI and determine the appropriate treatment course. Generally, you will be prescribed an antibiotic and given instructions on how to manage your condition comfortably from home (and prevent it from reoccurring).

The role of urgent care 

Urgent care should be used for situations that require immediate attention but are not life-threatening, which can apply to UTIs. You can think of urgent care as a midway point between primary and emergency care. If your PCP is not available or cannot be seen same-day, urgent care is your next best option to manage your UTI. Urgent cares are staffed with highly qualified providers who can perform the same diagnostic tests and provide you with the same treatment options as your PCP. Benefits of visiting urgent care for a UTI include:

  • Cost. Urgent care is considerably less expensive than an ER visit across the board, UTIs included. 
  • Access. Most urgent care sites offer same-day availability along with extended weekend and evening hours. For example, most Revere Health Urgent Care locations are open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  
  • Care coordination. At Revere Health, urgent care is integrated with specialty medicine as well as primary care, creating a seamless experience for every type of visit.

Are there appropriate times to go to the ER for a UTI?

Although most UTIs can be treated at primary care or urgent care, some symptoms can be a sign of a serious health problem, such as kidney infections, that may warrant an ER visit. These symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Shaking and chills
  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, people with weakened immune systems, and people with certain conditions like diabetes or kidney disease may need specialized treatment

Don’t let a UTI go untreated

Untreated UTIs can lead to life-threatening health conditions if the infection spreads to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys. A kidney infection can lead to sepsis, a complication in which your body becomes overwhelmed while fighting an infection.

Sepsis caused by a UTI is called urosepsis. Go to the ER if you notice these signs of urosepsis:

  • Abnormal heart function
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Extreme fatigue

Outside of extreme scenarios, it’s best to visit primary care for a UTI and then go to urgent care if your PCP is unavailable. Visit to find convenient primary care and urgent care locations in your area.