What Is Urinalysis?

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

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

Your doctor may also want to test your pee 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. Those symptoms include:

  • Pain in your belly
  • Pain in your back
  • Pain when you pee or needing to go frequently
  • Blood in your pee

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 It Work?

There are three different 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 above normal, you could have kidney stones, a urinary tract infection (UTI) or another condition.
  • Protein. This can be a sign your kidneys are not working right. Kidneys filter waste products out of your blood, and your body needs protein.
  • Glucose. A high sugar content is a marker for diabetes.
  • White blood cells. These are a sign of infection.
  • Bilirubin . If this waste product, which is normally eliminated by your liver, show 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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What Do I Do?

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 menstruating, let the doctor know before the test.

You’ll either be asked to produce a urine sample at home and bring it with you, or you’ll produce it at your health care provider’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:

  • Wash the area around the urinary opening.
  • Start to pee into the toilet.
  • Stop midstream.
  • Let 1 to 2 ounces flow into the container.
  • Finish peeing in the toilet.
  • Follow your health care provider’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 Results Mean?

This test offers 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 22, 2017

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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