Diagnosis of Bladder Control Problems (Urinary Incontinence)

How do doctors find the cause of a bladder control problem?

A doctor uses your medical history and a physical exam to find the cause of your bladder control problem. Your doctor also may order lab and other diagnostic tests.

Even if you feel embarrassed, it’s important that you discuss your urinary incontinence (UI) with a health care professional. The types of health care professionals who can treat you include

  • a family practice physician
  • a nurse or nurse practitioner
  • an internist or primary care provider
  • a physical therapist
  • an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN)
  • a gynecologist who specializes in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery
  • a urologist
A doctor speaks to a patient.
Even if you feel embarrassed, it’s important that you talk with a health care professional if you’re having bladder control problems.

Medical history

A health care professional will record your medical history and may ask about your

  • symptoms, also sometimes called lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS)
  • eating and drinking habits
  • bowel habits
  • over-the-counter and prescription medicines
  • current and past medical problems and surgeries
  • pregnancy and childbirth history, if you’re a woman
  • prostate problems, if you’re a man

Your doctor may diagnose the type of UI you have based on your medical history and physical exam, or may use this information to decide if you need more testing.

Bladder diary

To prepare for the doctor’s visit, you may want to keep a bladder diary (PDF, 487.59 KB) for 2 to 3 days beforehand. Each day, be sure to include

  • 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
A man writes down his bladder habits in a notebook.
Keep a bladder diary for a few days before your doctor’s visit.

Physical exam

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, including a rectal exam. A doctor will also give a woman a pelvic exam. Doctors use these exams to look for medical problems that may lead to accidental urine loss.

You may be asked to cough while your bladder is full to see if you leak urine. This is called a stress test, and doctors use it to help diagnose stress incontinence.

Which tests help find the cause of a bladder control problem?

Lab tests

Your doctor may order lab tests, in addition to taking your medical history and completing a physical exam.

Urinalysis. You will collect a urine sample at the doctor’s office or lab, and a health care professional will test the sample. A health care professional may culture your urine by placing part of your urine sample in a tube or dish with a substance that encourages any bacteria present to grow. The test can show if you have a bladder infection, a kidney problem, or diabetes.

Blood test. A health care professional may take a blood sample from you and send the sample to a lab to test. A blood test can show problems with kidney function or a chemical imbalance in your body.

Bladder function tests

Bladder function tests, also called urodynamic testing, show how well your bladder, urethra, and sphincters work. Most urodynamic tests focus on how well your bladder can hold and release urine.

Imaging tests

Doctors use urinary tract imaging to diagnose other conditions that may cause LUTS.

June 2018
Share

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. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.