How are urinary incontinence problems diagnosed?

For many patients, your doctor can make the diagnosis through medical history discussion. The pattern and nature of the leakage will help determine the type of incontinence. A physical examination, including reflex testing and palpation of areas around the urinary tract will offer additional information suggesting the cause of the incontinence. Some patients require additional diagnostic tests.

Bladder scanning in the office setting represents a painless, noninvasive way to visualize the bladder contents. A physician can assess emptying ability with this test, similar to an ultrasound.

Urine and blood samples may be taken and analyzed for evidence of infection, kidney stone or metabolic imbalances. A urodynamic study may be conducted in which bladder pressure and flow rates are determined. Cystoscopy involves inserting a thin hollow tube into the urethra and advancing it into the bladder. Miniature lights and lenses at the tip of the tube allow the walls of the urethra and interior of the bladder to be examined.

Creating a urination diary is a simple and informative task. The patient is given a pan that fits across a toilet seat. The date, time and quantity of urine expressed are recorded for several days to a week.

Not all of these tests are utilized in every patient. Testing stops as soon as the origin of the incontinence is reliably determined. These tests can be completed in the doctor's office, as an outpatient visit, and are not painful. Once these tests have confirmed the cause of your incontinence, your doctor can make specific recommendations for treatment, many of which do not require surgery. No matter how serious the problem seems, incontinence is a condition that can be significantly helped and, in most cases, cured.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/11/2014.

References

  • Warren JW. Dysuria, Bladder Pain, and the Interstitial Cystitis/Bladder Pain Syndrome. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014. Accessed 1/16/2015.
  • Lue TF, Tanagho EA. Chapter 28. Neuropathic Bladder Disorders. In: McAninch JW, Lue TF. eds. Smith and Tanagho's General Urology, 18e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2013. Accessed 1/16/2015.
  • Pathak AS, Aboseif SR. Overactive Bladder: Drug Therapy Versus Nerve Stimulation. Nat Clin Pract Urol 2005; 2:310-311. Rosenberg MT. Dmochowski RR. Overactive bladder: Evaluation and management in primary care. CCJM 2005;72:150-156. National Association for Continence. Overactive Bladder Accessed 1/16/2015.

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