Diagnosing urinary incontinence can be complicated. This is because the cause can’t always be found. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also have a physical exam. This will involve checking the urinary and nervous systems to see how your bladder is working. Your doctor may also do a rectal or pelvic exam. The exams will look for certain causes such as blockages or nerve problems.

You will be asked how often you empty your bladder. You will be asked to keep a diary of your bladder habits. This will help you find out when and how leakage happens. You may be referred to a specialist for further testing and treatment.

Tests for Urinary Incontinence

Since there is more than one cause, each one must be checked fully. You may need one or more of these tests:

  • Urine test —Looks for signs of infection. These can also see if your kidneys are working as they should.
  • Blood test —Checks the health of your blood cells and kidneys.
  • Stress test —You will be asked to bear down with a full bladder as your doctor watches for loss of urine. If you are a woman, the doctor will also be looking for bladder floor support.
  • Ultrasound —To see how much urine is left in the bladder after passing urine.
  • Urodynamic tests —Many types of measurements of bladder function can be made:
    • How much the bladder can hold
    • Volume at which the bladder muscle reflexively contracts
    • How much pressure the bladder muscle makes
    • Highest pressure the sphincter can resist
    • Speed of emptying
    • Coordination between the sphincter muscle and the bladder muscle
  • Cystoscopy —A thin tube with a light and a camera is placed into the urethra and bladder. Tumors, narrowing, and other problems can be seen. Contrast matter may be used so structures are easier to see.
  • Imaging tests —A series of images can be taken to see how much urine is left in the bladder. They can also be used to look for blockage or problems with how the muscles work. Contrast matter may be used to make structures easier to see.

Cystoscopy of the Bladder

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Diagnosis of bladder control problems (urinary incontinence). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems/diagnosis. Updated June 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Urinary incontinence in adults. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary-disorders/voiding-disorders/urinary-incontinence-in-adults. Updated July 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Urinary incontinence in men. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900624/Urinary-incontinence-in-men. Accessed December 4, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Urinary incontinence in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900573/Urinary-incontinence-in-women. Accessed November 14, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD  Last Updated: 1/17/2019