I. Introduction

While urine testing is used as a general health checkup tool, it’s especially useful when someone may be experiencing issues with the kidneys or urinary tract. UTIs are extremely common, especially in women. They account for around a quarter of all infections in women, and more than half of all women develop at least one UTI in their lifetime. But UTIs are also a significant risk for older men and male infants.

Another common issue that UA testing is conducted for is kidney issues. Chronic kidney disease impacts more than 35 million people in the United States; that’s around 1 in 7 adults. However, according to the National Kidney Foundation, 90% of people who have CKD don’t realize it, so it’s important to get health checkups regularly that include the type of urinalysis that might point to such an issue, especially for the third of the population that’s at risk for CKD.

This guide provides a comprehensive look at how urinalysis tests work and when you might need to have one. It also provides some basic information about some of the conditions UA tests are used to diagnose and how professionals might treat those conditions when they’re discovered.

II. Overview of Urinalysis Testing

Why Should I Get Tested?

Urine tests are used for a wide range of diagnostic purposes. They can confirm someone is pregnant, help doctors diagnose several infections, check the functions of your kidneys, test for drug use, and help diagnose and monitor chronic conditions such as bladder cancer or diabetes. UA tests are also effective in identifying certain sexually transmitted diseases. Identifying any of these issues as early as possible helps support a better outcome for treatment, and UA testing can help with that.

When Should I Get Tested?

The catch-all nature of urinalysis is why urine testing is a common general step in any well-check or doctor’s appointment. Reasons you might specifically ask for a urinalysis include discomfort when you pee, problems going to the restroom, blood in your urine, or pain in the area surrounding your bladder or kidneys.

What Is Required for the Test?

Urine tests require you to collect your urine. Typically, a large amount of urine isn’t needed, but your medical providers will instruct you on exactly what they need for specific tests. The urine must be collected following sanitary procedures that limit the risks of it being contaminated. Health providers then visually inspect the urine and use testing sticks or lab equipment to analyze the urine for diagnostic purposes.

What Do I Need to Do to Prepare for the Test?

Make sure you aren’t dehydrated and can produce enough urine at the time of the test. You don’t have to gulp down excessive amounts of water — that can actually impact the reliability of the test results. Instead, have a glass or two of water, juice, or milk an hour or so prior to the test.

Try not to urinate and empty your bladder right before the test. And make sure to tell your medical provider about any medications you’re taking, including vitamin C supplements because some substances can alter UA test results.

III. The Basics of Conditions UA Tests Help Diagnose

UA tests can diagnose or assist in the diagnosis of many conditions. A brief description of some of the most common conditions related to urinalysis is included below.

ConditionDescription
PregnancyUrine testing detects hormones that are related to pregnancy. They’re extremely accurate in determining whether a woman is pregnant, even early on. You can buy pregnancy urine tests to use at home.
UTIsUrinary tract infections typically cause you to feel pain or burning when you pee or attempt to pee. They occur when bacteria enters the urethra. The urethra is the tube through which pee travels when it leaves the bladder and exits your body. You can experience a UTI along any area of the urethra or within the bladder itself.
DiabetesWhen you have diabetes, your body may make more of something called ketones. Excess ketones can show up in your urine, helping doctors identify this chronic condition or understand how severe it is in individual cases. Diabetes impacts how your body manages blood sugar. If left untreated, it can lead to many complications and even death.
Internal injuriesInternal injuries, such as a tear or puncture to an organ, often cause some blood to enter the urine. Doctors look at a urine sample visually to determine if they see signs of blood, but urinalysis can also detect the presence of blood even with it’s at a small enough level that you can’t see it.
Kidney issuesThe kidneys act as a filter for the rest of your body. They remove toxins from your body and help ensure the waste portion of liquids you take in is expelled via the urine. When you have kidney disease, these organs are damaged and don’t perform as well as they should. That can lead to other complications throughout your body.
Drug useMany substances show up in the urine, including drugs such as heroin or cocaine. UA testing is often conducted to determine if someone has recently used drugs. The length of time a substance is detectable in urine varies according to the type of drug, how much you used, and other factors.
ChlamydiaThis is a common STD with little in the way of symptoms. It can impact men and women. Symptoms, if you do experience them, can include burning when you pee and abnormal discharge from the genital areas. Chlamydia is fairly easy to treat, and if you catch it early enough, doesn’t typically cause long-lasting damage. If it’s not caught early enough, it can lead to reproductive issues for women.
GonorrheaGonorrhea is also a common STD that can affect people of both genders. Symptoms include burning sensations when you pee, discharge from the genitals, swollen testicles, or unexplained vaginal bleeding. Gonorrhea can be treated, but the damage caused by the disease may be permanent, which makes early testing and treatment critical.

IV. How Urinalysis Tests Work

UA tests are fairly simple for the patient. You simply need to pee, typically into a cup or other collection mechanism. Health care professionals take it from there. Here’s a look at a couple of types of urine tests you might experience and some tips for ensuring the most accurate results.

  • Stick tests. Stick tests involve you peeing on a stick, which usually has the analysis built right in. The most common example is a pregnancy test. These sticks soak up some of the urine from your stream. The urine passes over the analysis piece to give a result — in the case of pregnancy, a certain level of specific hormones registers a positive result.
  • Dip stick tests. These types of tests may be used at home or in medical offices. You pee in a cup, and then, a test stick is dipped into the sample. The test stick is designed to react to the presence of something specific in the urine. If the stick turns a certain color, that substance is present. This can help diagnose pregnancy, drug use, and a few other conditions or help doctors understand the severity of some issues.
  • Comprehensive tests. In some cases, urine is sent to a lab for more comprehensive tests. Labs can break down the individual elements in urine to better understand them, such as identifying exactly how much of a certain substance is present. Depending on your health care provider’s office, the labs might be conducted on-site during your visit for immediate results or be sent off-site. In the latter case, the health care provider typically lets you know your results in a few days.

No matter what type of UA test you’re dealing with, you can take a few steps to ensure accurate results. Doing so makes it less likely you’ll have the repeat the test because results weren’t conclusive. That might reduce the time and money you spend.

To protect the accuracy of your results, first, make sure your genital area is clean. If any chemicals or particles are present from contact with something else, they can contaminate your sample. Doctors’ offices usually provide sterile wipes for this purpose. Next, don’t touch the collection device to your genitals or skin, and start collecting a second or two after you begin peeing. Taking the sample from the middle of your urination (as opposed to the very beginning or end) helps improve reliability.

Because urinalysis can be used in a wide range of cases, obviously, the treatments for the conditions will also be quite varied. Here’s a quick look at some basics about treatment for issues commonly detected or monitored by UA tests.

ConditionCommon Treatment
UTIsConfirmed cases of UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics because this is a bacterial infection
DiabetesDiabetes is a chronic disorder that can’t be cured. It’s typically managed via changes in diet and lifestyle and the potential use of medications and insulin injections
Internal injuriesDepending on the severity of the injury, it may be treated with bed rest or clinical interventions that range from medication to surgery
Kidney issuesTreatment for kidney issues varies depending on the specific diseases at play and the severity of it. Medication and changes in diet and lifestyle typically come first. At end stages, dialysis or kidney transplants may be recommended
Drug useSubstance abuse and addiction are commonly treated with rehab and counseling, which can occur in an inpatient or outpatient environment. In some cases, providers may prescribe medication to help someone break free of drug use, especially when they’re at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms
ChlamydiaChlamydia is fairly easy to cure. Treatments include courses of medication, and you have a better chance of being cured if you’re compliant with all your meds
GonorrheaThis STD is a bit harder to cure than chlamydia, in part because gonorrhea strains have started to become resistant to some antibiotics. Still, it is curable and is treated with medications. Taking all medications as prescribed and never skipping doses is the best way patients can increase their chances of a successful cure

VI. Frequently Asked Questions About Urine Tests

Can you beat the results of a urine drug test?
In cases where someone is being tested for drug use, they may want to know if they can alter the results. Common attempts to do so include using someone else’s urine or adding something to the urine sample. However, screening procedures for drug testing take these into account and usually include processes to ensure the urine test is accurate.

How much urine is required for testing?
In most cases, you don’t have to produce much urine for a test. This is especially true for tests that rely on dipsticks, as you only need enough for the dipstick to soak up. Your medical staff will let you know if they need more urine for a test.

What if I can’t pee when it’s time for the test?
Peeing on command — especially in a medical setting like a clinic or hospital — can be pressuring. But worrying about it only adds more pressure. Remember that your doctors and nurses have likely dealt with everything possible related to UA tests. Simply let them know you were unable to urinate at that time, and they can provide some tips. Usually, that help comes in the form of a cup of water and some time to let your body process the extra liquid.

What should I do after I pee in the cup?
Standing in a doctor’s office bathroom with a cup or container of your own urine can seem a bit awkward. But all you have to do is follow whatever instructions the nurse or staff member gave you. Often, that involves leaving the sample on a specific shelf or putting a lid on the container and carrying it to a separate room. Once you hand off the sample, your part in this process is done. The medical staff will ensure it’s labeled properly and goes through testing.

How long do urine tests results take?
The time it takes to receive your results depends on the nature of the test. Dipstick tests provide almost immediate results. Tests that require lab support may take a few days to a week. If you’re anxious about results, ask the nurse or doctor how long they expect the results to take.