If you experience urinary incontinence, see your GP so they can determine the type of condition you have.
Try not to be embarrassed about speaking to your GP about your incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem and it's likely your GP has seen many people with the condition.
Your GP will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history, including:
- whether the urinary incontinence occurs when you cough or laugh
- whether you need the toilet frequently during the day or night
- whether you have any difficulty passing urine when you go to the toilet
- whether you're currently taking any medication
- how much fluid, alcohol or caffeine you drink
Your GP may suggest that you keep a diary of your bladder habits for at least 3 days so you can give them as much information as possible about your condition.
This should include details like:
- how much fluid you drink
- the types of fluid you drink
- how often you need to pass urine
- the amount of urine you pass
- how many episodes of incontinence you experience
- how many times you experience an urgent need to go to the toilet
Tests and examinations
You may also need to have some tests and examinations so your GP can confirm or rule out things that may be causing your incontinence. Some of these are explained below.
Your GP may examine you to assess the health of your urinary system. If you're female, your GP will carry out a pelvic examination, which usually involves undressing from the waist down. You may be asked to cough to see if any urine leaks out.
Your GP may also examine your vagina. In over half of women with stress incontinence, part of the bladder may bulge into the vagina.
Your GP may place their finger inside your vagina and ask you to squeeze it with your pelvic floor muscles.
These are the muscles that surround your bladder and urethra, the tube urine passes through out of the body. Damage to your pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary incontinence.
If you're male, your GP may check whether your prostate gland is enlarged. The prostate gland is located between the penis and bladder, and surrounds the urethra.
If it's enlarged, it can cause symptoms of urinary incontinence, such as a frequent need to urinate.
You may also need a digital rectal examination to check the health of your prostate gland. This will involve your GP inserting their finger into your bottom.
If your GP thinks your symptoms may be caused by a urinary tract infection, a sample of your urine may be tested for bacteria.
A small chemically treated stick is dipped into your urine sample. It will change colour if bacteria are present. The dipstick test can also check the blood and protein levels in your urine.
Residual urine test
If your GP thinks you may have overflow incontinence, they may suggest a test called a residual urine test to see how much urine is left in your bladder after you go for a wee.
This is usually done by carrying out an ultrasound scan of your bladder, although occasionally the amount of urine in your bladder may be measured after it's been drained using a catheter.
A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that's inserted into your urethra and passed through to your bladder.
Some further tests may be necessary if the cause of your urinary incontinence isn't clear. Your GP will usually start treating you first and may suggest these tests if treatment isn't effective.
A cystoscopy involves using an instrument called an endoscope to look inside your bladder and urinary system. This test can identify abnormalities that may be causing incontinence.
These are a group of tests used to check the function of your bladder and urethra. This may include keeping a bladder diary for a few days and then attending an appointment at a hospital or clinic for tests.
Tests can include:
- measuring the pressure in your bladder by inserting a catheter into your urethra
- measuring the pressure in your tummy (abdomen) by inserting a catheter into your bottom
- asking you to urinate into a special machine that measures the amount and flow of urine
Page last reviewed: 24 October 2016
Next review due: 24 October 2019