Urine Analysis Overview

Urinalysis can reveal diseases that have gone unnoticed because they do not produce striking signs or symptoms. Examples include diabetes mellitus, various forms of glomerulonephritis, and chronic urinary tract infections.

The most cost-effective device used to screen urine is a paper or plastic dipstick. This microchemistry system has been available for many years and allows qualitative and semi-quantitative analysis within one minute by simple but careful observation. The color change occurring on each segment of the strip is compared to a color chart to obtain results. However, a careless doctor, nurse, or assistant is entirely capable of misreading or misinterpreting the results. Microscopic urinalysis requires only a relatively inexpensive light microscope.

Macroscopic Urinalysis

The first part of a urinalysis is direct visual observation. Normal, fresh urine is pale to dark yellow or amber in color and clear. Normal urine volume is 750 to 2000 ml/24hr.

Turbidity or cloudiness may be caused by excessive cellular material or protein in the urine or may develop from crystallization or precipitation of salts upon standing at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Clearing of the specimen after addition of a small amount of acid indicates that precipitation of salts is the probable cause of turbidity.

A red or red-brown (abnormal) color could be from a food dye, eating fresh beets, a drug, or the presence of either hemoglobin or myoglobin. If the sample contained many red blood cells, it would be cloudy as well as red.

Urine Dipstick Chemical Analysis pH

The glomerular filtrate of blood plasma is usually acidified by renal tubules and collecting ducts from a pH of 7.4 to about 6 in the final urine. However, depending on the acid-base status, urinary pH may range from as low as 4.5 to as high as 8.0. The change to the acid side of 7.4 is accomplished in the distal convoluted tubule and the collecting duct.

Specific Gravity

Specific gravity (which is directly proportional to urine osmolality which measures solute concentration) measures urine density, or the ability of the kidney to concentrate or dilute the urine over that of plasma. Dipsticks are available that also measure specific gravity in approximations. Most laboratories measure specific gravity with a refractometer.

Specific gravity between 1.002 and 1.035 on a random sample should be considered normal if kidney function is normal. Since the sp gr of the glomerular filtrate in Bowman’s space ranges from 1.007 to 1.010, any measurement below this range indicates hydration and any measurement above it indicates relative dehydration.

If sp gr is not > 1.022 after a 12 hour period without food or water, renal concentrating ability is impaired and the patient either has generalized renal impairment or nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. In end-stage renal disease, sp gr tends to become 1.007 to 1.010.

Any urine having a specific gravity over 1.035 is either contaminated contains very high levels of glucose, or the patient may have recently received high density radiopaque dyes intravenously for radiographic studies or low molecular weight dextran solutions. Subtract 0.004 for every 1% glucose to determine non-glucose solute concentration.