At a Glance
Why Get Tested?
When to Get Tested?
During a routine physical or when you have symptoms of a UTI, such as abdominal pain, back pain, frequent or painful urination; as part of a pregnancy check-up, a hospital admission, or a pre-surgical work-up
One to two ounces of urine; first morning sample is most valuable.
Test Preparation Needed?
The Test Sample
What is being tested?
A urinalysis is a group of chemical and microscopic tests. They detect the byproducts of normal and abnormal metabolism, cells, cellular fragments, and bacteria in urine. Urine is produced by the kidneys, two fist-sized organs located on either side of the spine at the bottom of the ribcage. The kidneys filter wastes out of the blood, help regulate the amount of water in the body, and conserve proteins, electrolytes, and other compounds that the body can reuse. Anything that is not needed is excreted in the urine, traveling from the kidneys through ureters to the bladder and then through the urethra and out of the body. Urine is generally yellow and relatively clear, but each time someone urinates, the color, quantity, concentration, and content of the urine will be slightly different because of varying constituents.
Many disorders can be diagnosed in their early stages by detecting abnormalities in the urine. Abnormalities include increased concentrations of constituents that are not usually found in significant quantities in the urine, such as: glucose, protein, bilirubin, red blood cells, white blood cells, crystals, and bacteria. They may be present because:
- There are elevated concentrations of the substance in the blood and the body is trying to decrease blood levels by "dumping" them in the urine.
- Kidney disease has made the kidneys less effective at filtering.
- There is a urinary tract infection present, as in the case of bacteria and white blood cells.
A complete urinalysis consists of three distinct testing phases:
- Visual examination, which evaluates the urine's color, clarity, and concentration.
- Chemical examination, which tests chemically for about 9 substances that provide valuable information about health and disease.
- Microscopic examination, which identifies and counts the type of cells, casts, crystals, and other components, such as bacteria and mucus, that can be present in urine.
The first two phases of urinalysis may be completed in the laboratory or doctor's office. A microscopic examination is then performed if there is an abnormal finding on the visual or chemical examination, or if the doctor specifically orders it.
How is the sample collected for testing?
Urine for a urinalysis can be collected at any time. The first morning sample is considered the most valuable because it is more concentrated and more likely to yield abnormalities if present. It is important to clean the genitalia before collecting urine. Bacteria and cells from the surrounding skin can contaminate the sample and interfere with the interpretation of test results. With women, menstrual blood and vaginal secretions can also be a source of contamination. Women should spread the labia of the vagina and clean from front to back; men should wipe the tip of the penis. Start to urinate, let some urine fall into the toilet, then collect one to two ounces of urine in the container provided, then void the rest into the toilet. This type of collection is called a "midstream collection" or a "clean catch."
A urine sample will only be useful for a urinalysis if taken to the doctor's office or laboratory for processing within a short period of time. If it will be longer than an hour between collection and transport time, then the urine should be refrigerated or a preservative may be added.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No advance test preparation is needed. However, at the time of sample collection, follow instructions for a clean catch urine sample as stated above.
Ask a Laboratory Scientist
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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.
Sources Used in Current Review
Coad, S. et. al. (2012 May 16). Understanding Urinalysis, Clues for the Obstetrician-Gynecologist. Medscape Today News [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/763579 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed October 2012.
(2012 May 24). Urinary Tract Infections in Adults. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIDDK. [On-line information]. Available online at http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/utiadult/index.aspx through http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed October 2012.
(© 1995-2012). Urinalysis, Complete, Includes Microscopic. Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Overview/9308 through http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com. Accessed October 2012.
Lin, J. (Updated 2012 March 16). Specific Gravity. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2090711-overview#showall through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed October 2012.
Peacock, P. and Sinert, R. Management of Acute Complications of Acute Renal Failure. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/777845-overview#a1 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed October 2012.
Szczech, L. (2011 November 1). A Simple Test With Major Implications for Kidney Function. Medscape Today News [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/752171 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed October 2012
Pagana, K. D. & Pagana, T. J. (© 2011). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 10th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp 1000-1004.
Clarke, W., Editor (© 2011). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry 2nd Edition: AACC Press, Washington, DC. Pp 397-408.
Sources Used in Previous Reviews
Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition].
Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.
Nancy A. Brunzel, MS, CLS (NCA). Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (© 2007). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 8th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp. 968-980.
Clarke, W. and Dufour, D. R., Editors (2006). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry, AACC Press, Washington, DC. Pp. 339-350.
Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition]. Pp. 2038-2042.
(2007 August). Your Urinary System and How It Works. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse [On-line information]. Available online at http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/yoururinary/ through http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed on 12/16/08.
Vorvick, L. (2008 May 5). Urinalysis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003579.htm. Accessed on 12/16/08.
(2005 November, Revised). Approach to the Renal Patient. Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec17/ch226/ch226b.html#sec17-ch226-ch226b-21 through http://www.merck.com. Accessed on 12/16/08.
Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics. Burtis CA, Ashwood ER and Bruns DE, eds. 4th ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Saunders; 2006, Pp. 808-812.
Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. McPherson RA and Pincus MR, eds. Philadelphia: 2007, Pp. 409-419.