Urinalysis (Urine Test)

What Is Urinalysis?

Urinalysis is a series of tests on your urine, or pee. Doctors use it to check for signs of common conditions or diseases. Other names for it are urine test, urine analysis, and UA.

Why Is Urinalysis Done?

You may have a urinalysis as part of a routine check of your overall health, like during your yearly physical. Urinalysis is one way to find certain illnesses in their earlier stages. They include:

Your doctor may want to test your urine if you’re getting ready to have surgery or are about to be admitted to the hospital. Urinalysis can be part of a pregnancy checkup, too.

If you have symptoms of a kidney or urinary tract problem, you may have the tests to help find out what the problem is. 

You might also have this test regularly if you have a condition such as a kidney disease that needs to be watched over time.

How Does a Urinalysis Work?

There are three ways to analyze urine, and your test might use all of them.

One is a visual exam, which checks the color and clarity. If your pee has blood in it, it might be red or dark brown. Foam can be a sign of kidney disease, while cloudy urine may mean you have an infection.

A microscopic exam checks for things too small to be seen otherwise. Some of the things that shouldn’t be in your urine that a microscope can find include:

  • Red blood cells
  • White blood cells
  • Bacteria
  • Crystals (clumps of minerals, a possible sign of kidney stones)

The third part of urinalysis is the dipstick test, which uses a thin plastic strip treated with chemicals. It’s dipped into your urine, and the chemicals on the stick react and change color if levels are above normal. Things the dipstick test can check for include:

  • Acidity, or pH. If the acid is abnormal, you could have kidney stones, a urinary tract infection (UTI), or another condition.
  • Protein. This can be a sign your kidneys aren’t working right. Kidneys filter waste products out of your blood.
  • Glucose. A high sugar content is a marker for diabetes.
  • White blood cells. These are a sign of infection or inflammation, either in the kidneys or anywhere else along your urinary tract.
  • Nitrites. This means that there is an infection with certain kinds of bacteria.
  • Bilirubin. If this waste product, which is normally eliminated by your liver, shows up, it may mean your liver isn’t working properly.
  • Blood in your urine. Sometimes this is a sign of infections or certain illnesses.

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How Do I Prepare for a Urinalysis?

If urinalysis is the only test you’re having, you should be able to eat and drink normally before the procedure. Beets and food dyes can discolor your urine, so you may want to watch what you eat beforehand.

Be sure to let your doctor know about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. If you’re having your period, let the doctor know before the test.

You’ll either be asked to collect a urine sample at home and bring it with you, or you’ll make it at your doctor’s office. The office will give you a container for the sample.

The best results come from using what’s known as the “clean catch” method. Here are the steps:

  1. Wash the area around the urinary opening.
  2. Start to pee into the toilet.
  3. Stop midstream.
  4. Let 1-2 ounces flow into the container.
  5. Finish peeing in the toilet.
  6. Follow your doctor’s directions for handing over the sample.

For babies and other people unable to provide a sample this way, a doctor may have to insert a soft, narrow tube called a catheter through the urinary opening and into the bladder.

What Do the Urinalysis Results Mean?

A urinalysis is just one piece of information about what’s going on in your body. The test can show warning signs but can’t tell your doctor for sure that anything is wrong with you. The results may be a clue that you need more tests and follow-up. The next steps depend on why you had the test in the first place.

For example, if your results are only slightly abnormal and you don’t have any other symptoms of an illness, your doctor may not do other tests. If you already have a kidney issue or urinary tract infection, your doctor may want to change your treatment plan.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Association for Clinical Chemistry: "Urinalysis."

Mayo Clinic: "Urinalysis."

National Kidney Foundation: "What is a Urinalysis?"

Urology Care Foundation: "What is a Urinalysis?"

University of Utah Eccles Health Sciences Library: "Urinalysis."

Kids Health from Nemours Foundation: "Urine Tests."

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