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Diagnosis Obstetrics & Gynecology

Urge Incontinence in Women

If you have incontinence, keeping a urinary diary — a record of your daily urination, urine accidents and fluid intake — can help us make the proper diagnosis and decide on the appropriate treatment.

At your first visit to UCSF, your provider will ask questions about your general health, your history of incontinence, past surgeries, illnesses and medications you are taking. The provider will also perform a physical examination, including a pelvic exam. In addition, a urine sample will be tested. If your problem is complex, additional tests may be done at a later visit.

Physical Exam Assessment

Depending on the particular details of your medical history, your doctor may proceed to any or all of the following physical evaluations.

  • Neurologic examination to evaluate strength, sensation and reflexes in your legs.
  • Pelvic exam to assess whether you have any pelvic relaxation or pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Pelvic floor assessment, in which your provider will evaluate the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, particularly your ability to contract and relax the appropriate muscle group.
  • Postvoid residual urine assessment to measure how much urine remains in your bladder within 15 minutes of voiding. This test offers an estimation of your bladder's ability to efficiently "empty the tank." The same urine sample may be analyzed for other factors, such as blood, sugar, crystals or signs of infection. Such an evaluation can be accomplished with an office urine dipstick or the hospital laboratory's microscopic urinalysis.
  • Urine culture if a urine dipstick or urinalysis suggests signs of acute infection. The culture is sent to the microbiology lab and, in approximately 24 to 48 hours, bacterial growth can be detected and the specific strain identified.
  • Cough stress test, in which your bladder is filled with water, and you are asked to cough or strain in the same manner that would cause you to leak urine. This test can be performed in the office or incorporated into more elaborate urodynamics testing.
  • A urinary diary provides details about your fluid intake and urine output, which can be crucial to making the right diagnosis. Because this is not typically the sort of information we take notice of in our daily lives, your provider will give you a urinary diary and a measuring receptacle.

    You may be asked to carefully record the time and amount of any fluids you drink and the urine you void over a complete 24-hour period. You may be asked to repeat this 24-hour diary for three to five days. This allows us to notice patterns that might be important to planning your treatment.

Additional Diagnostic Tests

In some cases, the doctor may decide to pursue further diagnostic testing. Below is a list of some scenarios that are more complex and merit further testing:

  • Uncertain diagnosis for bladder problems
  • Inability to develop successful treatment plan
  • Unimproved symptoms or failed treatment
  • Patient is considering surgery
  • Failed surgical procedure
  • Prescence of other conditions, such as hematuria (blood in urine) without infection, recurrent urinary tract infections, elevated postvoid residual urine volume, neurologic condition

Urodynamic Studies

The purpose of these studies is to evaluate the anatomy and function of the bladder and urethra, reproducing your symptoms.

  • Cystometrogram During this test, catheters are placed in your bladder and vagina or rectum, and your bladder is filled with fluid via the catheter. The test is used to determine your perception of water filling the bladder, any urgency to urinate, uncontrollable bladder contractions, the volume at which your bladder cannot comfortably hold any more, and the pressures within your bladder during the fluid storage process.
  • Stress testing You may be asked to perform a number of maneuvers such as coughing, changing positions, or bouncing on your heel with a catheter in place in an effort to reproduce any symptoms of incontinence.
  • Urethral pressure profile A catheter in your urethra is manipulated to measure urethral function.
  • Uroflometry During urination, a specially devised receptacle will measure the varying rate of urine flow, as well as duration of urination.
  • Pressure voiding study This test identifies abnormal voiding patterns or urine obstruction.

Other Tests

In cystoscopy, a slender camera is inserted via the urethra into the bladder, enabling the doctor to view the interior anatomy of your bladder and urethra in great detail. It is typically an outpatient procedure performed for the following symptoms or situations:

  • Blood or pus in urine with no bacteria present
  • Bladder infections that are unusually difficult to treat
  • New onset voiding irritation
  • New onset bladder pain
  • Suspected foreign body in the bladder
  • Urodynamics tests fail to duplicate incontinence symptoms

Radiologic tests identify upper or lower urinary tract structural abnormalities:

  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) This test involves administering intravenous (IV) dye to your bloodstream and taking X-rays of the entire urinary tract while the kidneys are processing the injected dye. This test cannot be performed if you have an allergy to IV contrast dye or abnormal kidney function.
  • CT scan A CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis may be performed, in which an X-ray machine takes a rapid sequence of two-dimensional, thin cross-sections of the body in the area of interest. This exam can be performed with or without contrast dye; mostly, this depends on what your doctor is looking for. The X-rays pictures provide great anatomic detail of most of the internal organs.
  • Ultrasound Unlike the previous two tests, an ultrasound does not involve X-rays. It utilizes a skin probe that directs sound waves to bounce off the body's internal organs, producing an anatomic picture. It can be a very useful screening tool for a number of the above indications.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.