Urinalysis: Everything to Know About Urine Tests
A urine test can be particularly useful for finding serious conditions — such as kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes — in the early stages.
Read on to find out more about the purpose and types of urinalysis. This guide also includes information about urinalysis test results and when to get a urinalysis.
The purpose of a urinalysis test is to identify any possible infections or medical problems. It can also provide your healthcare professional with an overview of your general health.
In particular, a urinalysis can show how well the kidneys are functioning. This includes how well your kidneys are diluting or concentrating urine and how they are removing waste products.
Discover some fast facts about urine.
There are three main types of urinalysis:
- a visual examination
- a microscopic examination
- a dipstick test
The visual urinalysis examination focuses on the appearance of the urine sample. This includes the color of the urine as well as how clear it is. Urine with a red color to it suggests the presence of blood, while foamy urine can indicate problems with the kidneys.
Learn about possible causes for blood in the urine.
Urinalysis with a microscopic examination involves studying the urine sample with a microscope. This makes it easier to see anomalies in the urine that the naked eye cannot see.
A microscopic urinalysis focuses on:
- red blood cells
- white blood cells
- crystals, which can turn into kidney stones
A dipstick test, or a rapid urine test, involves dipping a long strip of plastic into a urine sample. The stick typically measures 4–6 millimeters wide and 11–12 centimeters long, and it contains little absorbent pads, each containing a different chemical.
If certain substances are present in the urine at levels higher than typical, the chemicals on the strip will change color to reflect this.
A dipstick test can check for:
- acidity, or pH
- glucose, or sugar
- white blood cells or pus cells
Learn more about what sugar in urine can mean.
The different types of urinalysis tests can detect different things. For example, a visual examination can help check for substances that should not be there, such as blood, while microscopic exams and dipstick tests can help with identifying infections and other conditions.
Some examples of conditions a visual examination can help with diagnosing include:
- infection if the urine is cloudy
- kidney problems if the urine is foamy
- conditions that can cause blood in the urine, or hematuria, including:
Learn more about what can cause cloudy urine.
Examples of conditions a microscopic examination of casts and cells can help with diagnosing include:
- renal disease, which urinary casts can indicate
- a urinary tract infection (UTI) or inflammation if red or white blood cells are present
- contamination from fungi, bacteria, or parasites
- heavy metal poisoning or drug-induced toxicity if renal tubular cells are present
Crystals may also be present in urine. Calcium oxalate is the most common crystal in human urine, and it can indicate:
- ethylene glycol poisoning
- acid urine
- hyperoxaluria, which is a rare condition wherein there is too much oxalate in your urine
Other types of crystals include:
- cholesterol crystals, which can indicate polycystic renal disease and nephrotic syndrome
- uric acid crystals, which indicate high levels of uric acid
- amorphous phosphate crystals, which can indicate alkaline urine, as well as:
- a calcium-rich diet
- decreased urine volume
- extended immobilization
- an overactive parathyroid
- bone metastases
- triple phosphate crystals, which indicate a UTI and decreased urinary volume
- cysteine crystals, which can indicate cystinuria, an inherited metabolic condition wherein the urine contains excessive levels of undissolved crystals
The ways in which the chemicals on the dipstick test react when dipped into a urine sample can help with various diagnoses. For example, a dipstick test can help detect or confirm:
- kidney stones or a UTI if there is a high acid level
- kidney disease, which can prevent the kidneys from filtering properly, resulting in protein in the urine
- diabetes if there is a high level of urine glucose
- Urine glucose tests are not as reliable as blood glucose tests, so your doctor will likely order blood tests if urine tests indicate diabetes.
- an infection if white blood cells or pus cells are present
- liver disease if the waste product bilirubin is present, as the liver typically removes this
This is not an exhaustive list of conditions that urinalysis can help with detecting. Your doctor may order a urine test if you have certain signs or symptoms, or they may perform one and identify problems as part of a routine checkup.
You will take your urine sample to a doctor’s office, and they will be able to perform the visual examination and possibly the dipstick test. They will send the sample off to the laboratory for a microscopic examination.
Your doctor will then be able to tell you what the results mean.
If certain chemicals on the dipstick react to the urine sample, this is an indication that you may have an underlying condition. For example, if the dipstick shows that you have a high level of acid in your urine, this can indicate either a UTI or kidney stones. Also, if the dipstick shows that you have a high urine glucose level, this could suggest diabetes.
The microscopic examination can highlight the presence of crystals, cells, and casts in your urine. This can point to different health conditions, such as renal disease (if cholesterol crystals are present) or other kidney disorders (if your urine contains casts).
Depending on the results of your urinalysis, you may require further tests or examinations.
Can I get my own urine test results at home?
You can get rapid urine test kits for home use. However, these should not be used as a substitute for professional medical examinations and tests.
Contact a doctor if you have any concerns about your health or any symptoms you are experiencing. They can advise on whether or not they suggest urinalysis.
Certain factors can affect your urinalysis results. Examples include:
- foods and supplements in your diet
- medications you are taking
- contamination if the bottle comes into direct contact with your genitalia
- taking a sample from the start of the urine stream rather than midstream
- how the sample is stored
If you are not able to hand your urine sample in within an hour, you should store it in a refrigerator at a temperature of around 39ºF (4ºC).
You may be asked to provide another sample at a later date if the results are affected.
You may be required to provide a urine sample for a urinalysis if you:
- have a routine checkup
- are admitted to the hospital
- are going to have surgery
- are pregnant
Your doctor may also request a urine test to help with diagnosing conditions such as:
- a UTI
- kidney disease
Because “morning urine” can provide the best indication of how well your kidneys are functioning, your doctor may request that you take a sample when you first go to the bathroom after waking up. Your doctor will advise on whether or not they require a morning urine sample.
Urinalysis is part of routine testing during pregnancy. It can measure the amount of protein in your blood, and monitoring this in early pregnancy allows your doctor to compare this with urinalysis results in the advanced stages of pregnancy.
It is important to be able to monitor changes or increases in protein as your pregnancy progresses, as high protein levels can indicate preeclampsia.
Before you provide a urine sample for urinalysis, it is important to clean your genital area. This helps prevent contamination from bacteria, particularly if the sample bottle comes into direct contact with your genitalia while you provide the sample.
You should also make sure that you have everything you need before collecting the sample. This includes a container for storing the sample, which your doctor will be able to provide ahead of time.
You should label the container with the following information:
- your name
- your date of birth
- the date you are collecting the sample
If you are not able to hand in the sample within around 1 hour of collecting it, make sure you are able to store it in a refrigerator at a temperature of around 39ºF (4ºC). This helps prevent the bacteria in your urine from multiplying. You should not store the sample for more than 24 hours.
To provide a urine sample, you should remove the lid from the sample container and then wash your hands.
Once you go to the bathroom, you should start to urinate. It is important to collect “midstream urine,” which refers to the urine in the middle of the flow rather than the first or last part of the urine stream.
You may find it easier to start and then stop urinating before positioning the container for collecting the midstream urine.
You do not need to fill the container to the top. Around 15–30 milliliters of urine is enough.
Make sure that the lid of the container is properly secured once you have provided your sample.
A urinalysis and a urine culture can both help with diagnosing various conditions.
Although a urinalysis can test for indications of a wide range of conditions, a doctor will usually request a urine culture to test for a UTI.
The urine sample will be sent to a laboratory, where the laboratory technician will insert into it small plates that allow bacteria or fungi to grow. They will then incubate the urine culture for 1–2 days to see if anything grows.
If your urine contains bacteria or fungi, they will grow on the small plates. This can help with determining what kind of antibiotics you will require to treat a UTI.
A urinalysis is a urine test that can include a visual examination, a microscopic examination, and a dipstick test. Your doctor may request a urine sample to help with diagnosing or monitoring various health conditions.
You may require a urinalysis if you are going for an operation or if you are admitted to the hospital. It is also part of routine testing during pregnancy, in which it can monitor levels of protein.
The “midstream urine” can provide an indication of your overall health. Taking a urine sample from your first urination in the morning, in particular, can also provide information about how well your kidneys are functioning.
Your doctor will usually request a urine sample to help with diagnosis. Contact your doctor if you have been asked to provide a urine sample and you have questions about how to provide, store, or deliver the sample.