- Also Known As:
- Urine Analysis
- Urine Test
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Test Quick Guide
A urinalysis is a test that checks several components of a urine sample. Visual, chemical, and microscopic tests are all part of a complete urinalysis.
Urinalysis is frequently used to screen for urinary tract infections, kidney and liver issues, and diabetes. A urinalysis may be performed during a routine check-up, to evaluate certain symptoms, or upon admission to the hospital. It is also a common test for people who are pregnant.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of a urinalysis test is to check for abnormalities in the appearance or composition of the urine. It is commonly used for screening, diagnosing, and monitoring different health conditions.
Screening tests are used to detect health issues before symptoms appear, allowing for earlier treatment. Because some liver and kidney issues may not initially generate symptoms, a urinalysis test is frequently used to help check the health of these organs. Urinalysis can also be used to screen for underlying health problems during a pregnancy checkup or pre-surgery assessment. In these cases, urinalysis can look for unidentified health issues in order to reduce the risk of future complications.
Diagnosis is the process of finding the cause of symptoms. When a person begins to experience changes related to urination or other symptoms that can be tied to liver or kidney problems, a doctor may recommend urinalysis to help determine the cause. Urinalysis can help detect urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other conditions that affect the function of the urinary system.
Monitoring involves tests that follow the evolution of a person’s condition. Urinalysis tests may be conducted periodically over time to see how well treatment is working or to see if the severity of a condition has changed.
What does the test measure?
A urinalysis involves a series of assessments of a urine sample. It can measure one or more different components depending on the purpose of the test and the health care provider performing it.
A complete urinalysis will typically include a visual (also called physical) examination, a microscopic examination, and a chemical dipstick test, each of which involves different measurements and evaluations.
During the visual examination, a health care provider assesses the appearance of the urine and evaluates the following aspects:
- Clarity/turbidity: This is a determination of whether the urine is clear or cloudy.
- Color: This is an assessment of the color of the urine, including whether there are any signs of blood in the urine.
- Foam content: This checks how foamy the urine is, which can be related to its protein content.
- Odor: This examination involves checking for any unusual odor from the urine.
A microscopic examination is done by looking at drops of concentrated urine under a microscope to see if there are physical traces of the following:
- Bacteria, parasites, or yeast
- Red or white blood cells
- Urinary casts, which are small particles shaped like a tube that may contain different types of cells or substances
- Urinary crystals
Chemical dipstick test
The dipstick test uses a chemical strip that is submerged in the sample that changes color when exposed to different substances. A dipstick test may be used to check various aspects of the urine sample including:
- Acidity (pH): This is the acid-base or pH level of your urine, which is measured on a scale of 1-14 with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic.
- Bilirubin: Bilirubin is a substance produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. It is not normally found in the urine.
- Concentration/specific gravity: This measures the concentration of particles in your urine and can be related to fluid levels in the body.
- Glucose: Glucose is a type of sugar that is used to provide energy to cells.
- Enzymes: A dipstick test may check for the presence of an enzyme called leukocyte esterase that is found in white blood cells.
- Ketones: Ketones develop when the body uses fat instead of glucose for energy production.
- Nitrites: Nitrites are a type of chemical produced when bacteria are present in the urinary system.
- Protein: Proteins are molecules that help the body carry out vital functions. Proteins are usually found in the blood and only in small amounts in the urine.
- Blood cells: Dipstick tests can be used to look for evidence of blood and blood cells in the urine.
When should I get a urinalysis?
Your doctor may recommend a urinalysis test if you have symptoms that could be related to problems with the liver, kidneys, or urinary system. For example, if you have frequent or painful urination, blood in your urine, other urinary difficulties, or ongoing abdominal or back pain, your doctor may recommend a urinalysis to help determine the cause of these symptoms.
A screening urinalysis test may be recommended if you have an upcoming surgery, are pregnant, or as part of a regular medical checkup. Screening tests may be more likely if you have any risk factors for liver or kidney problems.
If you have a medical condition such as kidney disease or diabetes, your doctor may advise you to have regular urine tests to monitor your condition and treatment.
Finding a Urinalysis Test
How to get tested
During an in-office visit, your doctor may order a urinalysis and have you collect the sample in a specialized restroom equipped with cleaning wipes and specimen collection materials. Or, depending on the type of sample required, they may ask you to collect it at home.
Certain medical offices and clinics are equipped to perform a complete urinalysis, which includes visual, chemical, and microscopic examinations of the sample. Other health care providers may collaborate with an external laboratory that specializes in this comprehensive testing.
Can I take the test at home?
In some cases, a doctor may order at-home urine collection over the course of a full day. For these tests, you will use special containers to obtain your sample and then bring it to a medical office or laboratory for testing.
Commercial testing strips are available for various components of chemical urinalysis. These strips can be purchased from a pharmacy or online. However, at-home kits for completing a full urinalysis are unavailable since a complete urinalysis requires specialized equipment and technical knowledge.
How much does the test cost?
The cost of urinalysis testing varies depending on a number of considerations, such as where the test is performed, which components of the test are included, and whether you have medical insurance. Insurance frequently covers the cost of testing if it is prescribed by your doctor, although you may be responsible for copays or a deductible.
For patients who do not have health insurance or whose insurance does not cover the test, it may be helpful to discuss the cost of urinalysis testing with a doctor or hospital administrator.
Taking a Urinalysis Test
It is necessary to provide a urine sample for a urinalysis. Your doctor will inform you about what kind of urine sample is required. The two main ways of obtaining a sample are a 24-hour urine collection and a one-time urine collection with the clean-catch method.
- 24-hour urine collection: This test requires you to collect all of the urine you produce during a 24-hour period.
- One-time urine collection: Also known as a spot sample, this involves providing just one small sample of urine. The sample is often collected with the clean-catch method, which helps to prevent contaminants from entering the urine.
It is important to carefully follow any instructions from your health care provider about the type of sample needed and how to collect it properly.
Before the test
Usually you can eat and drink without any restrictions before a urinalysis. However, if the urinalysis is being done along with other tests, you may be required to fast beforehand.
Many drugs, including over-the-counter medications and herbal or dietary supplements, can affect urinalysis results. Inform your doctor about all the medications, vitamins, and supplements you take before the test.
While there are normally few preparations required for a urinalysis test, make sure to follow any specific instructions provided by your doctor.
During the test
A urine sample can be collected at home or at the location of your health care provider depending on the kind of sample needed. Urine specimen containers are usually given to you by the provider.
For a 24-hour urine collection, you will need to obtain all your urine during a specific 24-hour period.
- On the first day, you will urinate in the toilet when you wake up. Then, for the next 24 hours, you need to collect all your urine into the provided sample container.
- On the second day, when you wake up in the morning, you urinate into the sample container, which is the last collection during the 24-hour period.
- During the collection period, you need to keep the sample container in the refrigerator or a cool place.
For a one-time urine sample, you may be asked to collect the sample first thing in the morning when your urine is more concentrated. A clean-catch method may be used to collect urine mid-stream:
- A sterile wipe is used to thoroughly clean the urethral opening.
- You will start by urinating into the toilet and then pause the stream after a few seconds.
- You then place the collection container in the path of your urine stream and begin to urinate into the container.
- After filling the collection container with at least a couple of ounces of urine, you finish urinating into the toilet bowl.
- When finished, you will need to screw the lid of the container on tightly and avoid touching the interior of the cup or lid.
- If you’re at home, the urine cup should be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to take it to the lab or your provider’s office.
After the test
There are no side effects after a urinalysis test. Once your sample is provided, you can resume normal activities. If you are taking the test because you are experiencing symptoms, continue to report those symptoms to your doctor.
Urinalysis Test Results
Receiving test results
Your doctor may contact you by phone or email to discuss the findings of your test. A copy of the urinalysis lab test result can sometimes be obtained by mail or through an online health platform. Results are usually available within a few business days.
Interpreting test results
Your test report will list the types of analysis performed on your urine sample. It may include a summary of any specific findings with a written description of results from microscopic and visual examination.
For any measurements taken, the test report may show your levels alongside a reference range. This range reflects the laboratory’s expected values for a healthy person. Reference ranges often vary slightly between different laboratories because they can employ different measurement methods. Because these ranges may differ by the laboratory, you should read your test report carefully and discuss it with your doctor.
Urinalysis tests are interpreted based on the results of the different components of the test and other factors, including your symptoms and overall health. Your doctor will look for any abnormalities in the test. The significance of an irregularity in the urine’s physical, chemical, or microscopic characteristics might vary depending on your health history and current situation.
Many different health conditions can cause abnormal results on a urinalysis test. Examples of conditions that may lead to abnormal results include:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Kidney stones
- Trauma to the kidneys
- Liver diseases
- Some types of cancer
Certain medications, vitamins, and supplements can cause irregularities in urinalysis results. Some foods can also cause changes to the color and odor of urine that may lead to an irregularity during urinalysis.
It is important to talk with your health care provider to understand the details of your urinalysis test and what the results mean for your health.
Are test results accurate?
Urinalysis results are generally considered accurate, but they are not infallible. To achieve reliable results, laboratories must follow best practices while collecting, processing, and analyzing urine samples.
Even when those best practices are followed, other factors may impact the reliability of a urinalysis test result:
- Foods and drugs: Certain foods and medicines are known to cause color or smell changes to urine and may interfere with the interpretation of test results.
- Problems with the sample: Improper collection might lead to contamination or inaccurate results. For example, failing to collect all your urine during 24-hour sample collection or failing to clean the urethral opening before obtaining a one-time sample can prevent proper laboratory analysis.
Do I need follow-up tests?
In the event of an atypical result, additional testing is usually recommended. A urinalysis on its own often does not provide enough information to the health care provider about the underlying cause. Depending on the type of abnormal result that was found, other tests may be ordered to help confirm or rule out a specific diagnosis.
Questions for your doctor about test results
The following questions may be useful when you review your urinalysis test results with your doctor:
- Were any parts of my urinalysis test abnormal?
- Do the test results help address why I might be having symptoms?
- Are any follow-up tests needed in this situation?
- Do you recommend any treatments or lifestyle changes based on these results?
- Should I have a urinalysis test again in the future?
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