Urge incontinence: Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

  • Frequent urination, in the daytime and at night
  • Involuntary loss of urine
  • Sudden and urgent need to urinate (urinary urgency)

Diagnosis & Tests

During a physical examination, the health care provider will look at the abdomen and rectum. Women will also have a pelvic exam. Men will also have a genital exam. In most cases the physical exam reveals nothing abnormal.

If there are nervous system (neurologic) causes, other abnormalities may be found.

Tests include the following:

  • EMG (myogram) – rarely needed
  • Inspection of the inside of the bladder (cystoscopy)
  • Pad test (after placement of a previously weighed sanitary pad, the patient exercises, then the pad is weighed to determine urine loss)
  • Pelvic or abdominal ultrasound
  • Post-void residual volume (PVR) to measure amount of urine left after urination
  • Urinalysis or urine culture to rule out urinary tract infection
  • Urinary stress test (the patient stands with a full bladder and coughs)
  • Urodynamic studies (measurement of pressure and urine flow)
  • X-rays with contrast dye

Further tests will be performed to rule out other types of incontinence. The “Q-tip test” measures the change in the angle of the urethra at rest and when straining. An angle change of greater than 30 degrees often is a sign that the muscles supporting the bladder are weak. This is common in stress incontinence.

Pictures & Images

Female urinary tract


Review Date : 3/5/2010
Reviewed By : A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Urology, Department of Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine (8/30/2009).

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