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Getting a Urine Test

What Is a Urine Test?

Testing a urine sample can help doctors find out what's going on when someone has an infection or other problem in kidneys, bladder, or other parts of the urinary tract.

Why Are Urine Tests Done?

Doctors often order urine tests if they think a child has a urinary tract infection (UTI). Tests also can help them look for problems with the kidneys, bladder, or liver, and to screen for diabetes.

How Do We Prepare for a Urine Test?

To help your child get ready for a urine test, find out if they need to avoid any specific foods or activity before the test, or should stop taking any medicines.

Urine samples given into cups are painless. To help ease any fears, explain in simple terms how the test is done and why it's needed. Make sure your child understands that things like toilet paper or hair must not get in the sample.

How Are Urine Samples Taken?

Collecting the sample should only take a few minutes. Your child will need to pee into a sterile sample cup in the doctor's office, lab, or hospital.

Some types of urine tests need a sample that’s taken in the morning as soon as a child wakes up. If so, you may be asked to help your child with the test at home. Follow any storage and transportation instructions the lab gives you.

If a child isn't potty trained and can't pee into a cup, the doctor or nurse will insert a catheter (a narrow soft tube) into the bladder to get a small sample.

For babies, sometimes a sterile bag can be put around the diaper area to collect the sample. To do this type of collection at home, clean the skin around the urinary opening (urethra). Then, place the bag around it and secure with the attached tape. Your child can wear a diaper over the bag. The doctor will tell you how to remove the bag after your child has peed into it, usually within an hour. Take this sample to your lab.

What Is a "Clean Catch"?

The skin around the urinary opening normally has some of the same bacteria that cause UTIs. If these get into the sample, doctors might not be able to tell if there is a true infection. So the skin around the urethra must be cleaned right before the pee is collected. In this "clean-catch" method, the patient (or parent) cleans the skin, the child pees a small amount, stops briefly (if old enough to cooperate), then pees into the sample cup. The cup shouldn't touch the child's skin. Catching the urine in "midstream" is the goal.

How Is Urine Tested?

Visual Exam

Just looking at the urine sample can give health care providers some information. Pee usually is clear. If it’s cloudy, foamy, or looks red or brown, it can indicate a problem.

Dipstick Testing

A health care technician puts a small plastic strip with patches of chemicals on it (called a dipstick) into the urine sample. The patches change color to look for and measure things like:

  • glucose (sugar)
  • the pH level (acidic or basic) of pee
  • the concentration of the pee
  • bilirubin (made when red blood cells break down)
  • blood
  • ketones
  • protein levels

Microscopic Exam

When urine is looked at under a microscope, it can show things like:

  • crystals that might be a sign of kidney stones
  • germs like bacteria
  • red blood cells
  • white blood cells

The lab can also do a urine culture to look for an infection.

Are There Any Risks From Urine Tests?

No risks are involved in getting a urine test sample. If a child had a catheter inserted to get the sample, this might cause temporary discomfort.

When Are Test Results Ready?

Depending on the type of urine test, results can be ready right away, in a few hours, or a few days after the test. Your doctor will go over the results with you and explain what they mean. If there is a sign of a problem, more tests may be ordered.

What if I Have Questions?

If you have questions about the urine test or getting a urine sample at home, talk to your doctor.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 10, 2023

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