Diagnosis of Bladder Control Problems (Urinary Incontinence)

How do health care professionals find the cause of a bladder control problem?

A health care professional will ask about your family and medical history and give you a physical exam. The exam will look for medical problems that may lead to accidental urine loss, also called urinary incontinence (UI). You may be asked to cough while your bladder is full to see if you leak urine. This is called a stress test, and health care professionals use it to help diagnose stress incontinence.

A health care professional speaks with a patient. Even if you feel embarrassed, it’s important to talk with a health care professional if you’re having bladder control problems.

Additionally, you may be asked to keep a bladder diary, and your health care professional may order labs and other diagnostic tests.

Bladder diary

A bladder diary (PDF, 487.59 KB)  is a record of

  • what, when, and how much you drink
  • when you urinate and the amount you urinate
  • how often you leak
  • whether you feel a strong urge to go before a urine leak
  • what you were doing when the leaks happened

You may want to keep a bladder diary for 2 to 3 days before seeing your health care professional. This helps your health care professional see patterns to narrow down the cause of your bladder control problems.

What tests do health care professionals use to help find the cause of a bladder control problem?

Your health care professional may order one or more tests to help find the cause of UI.

Last Reviewed July 2021
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.