How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Patients with urinary incontinence should undergo a basic evaluation that includes a history, physical examination, and urinalysis. Additional information from a patient's voiding diary, cotton-swab test, cough stress test, measurement of postvoid residual (PVR) urine volume, cystoscopy, and urodynamic studies may be needed in selected patients. Videourodynamic studies are the criterion standard for the evaluation of an incontinent patient but are typically reserved for the evaluation of complex cases of stress urinary incontinence.

Most authorities agree that diagnosis from the history alone is not an adequate basis for surgical therapy. [56] A review of the role of patient history in the diagnosis of urinary incontinence showed that a history of stress incontinence carries a sensitivity of about 0.91, but specificity is only 0.51. Positive predictive values in the range of 0.75-0.87 have been reported for a history of stress incontinence. [57]

Sensitivity and specificity are worse if the history is indicative of urge or mixed incontinence. Because some believe that many failed stress incontinence procedures are the result of incorrect or incomplete diagnoses, improving on the positive predictive value of history alone seems worthwhile.

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