The first thing that your health professional will do is look at your urine. Normal urine varies in colour from colourless to dark yellow. Various things can affect the way your urine looks, from how much you've been drinking to what you've eaten recently. The smell can also vary widely and is not a good gauge of illness.
What are the results of a urine dipstick test?
A urine dipstick test can look for the following:
- Not normally found in the urine.
- May be present if there is an infection.
- Can be due to significant underlying disease, such as cancer, in the bladder or kidney (and the prostate gland in men).
- In women, it may be contamination if you are on your period at the time of doing the sample.
- Will always need to be confirmed by sending the sample for a full laboratory test, as the dipstick test can be positive when there's nothing wrong.
- Protein is normally found in the urine in tiny amounts but these tiny amounts aren't usually picked up on a urine dipstick test.
- Protein may be found in larger amounts if there is an infection or if you're pregnant and are developing pre-eclampsia.
- Can be the first sign of kidney disease.
- Glucose, a type of sugar, is never normally found in the urine.
- Glucose in the urine may be the first sign of diabetes.
- Ketones are chemicals made by the body when it's breaking down fat for energy, which is what we do when we are starving and have used up all, or nearly all, of our stores of sugar (glucose). This is normal.
- Ketones are not usually found in the urine.
- Ketones may be present if you have diabetes and it's out of control and the levels of sugar in the blood are very high.
- Ketones may also be present in women who are pregnant.
Bilirubin and urobilinogen
- Bilirubin and urobilinogen are chemicals produced by the liver. They are not normally found in the urine.
- If bilirubin is found in the urine it usually means there's a problem with the liver.
- Small amounts of urobilinogen may be found in the urine but large amounts suggest a problem with the liver or with red blood cells being destroyed too quickly.
Leukocyte esterase and nitrite
- These are both tests for the presence of infection.
- Leukocyte esterase test looks for a reaction that only happens if there are lots of white cells in the urine. White cells get into the urine when there is an infection.
- Nitrite is not normally found in the urine but will appear there if there are lots of germs (bacteria) in the urine.
- Nitrite test can be negative even if there are lots of bacteria in the urine if the urine hasn't been in the bladder for long. For example it will be negative if you do your urine sample soon after having passed urine. Ideally you should wait at least 4 hours from the last time you had a pee before doing your urine sample.
The urine dipstick test also measures how concentrated the urine is and how acidic it is.
Further reading and references
Krogsboll LT, Jorgensen KJ, Gotzsche PC; Screening with urinary dipsticks for reducing morbidity and mortality. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jan 281:CD010007. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010007.pub2.
Krogsboll LT; Guidelines for screening with urinary dipsticks differ substantially - a systematic review. Dan Med J. 2014 Feb61(2):A4781.
Fertility Awareness Methods; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (June 2015 - updated November 2015)
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