Urine tests measure specific substances in your urine, such as electrolytes, proteins, and bacteria. These tests can reveal a lot about your health, particularly when gradual changes or big jumps outside normal ranges occur.
Your body uses urine to remove toxins, excess water, and other substances. But urine can also reveal information about your overall health and well-being.
How well your body filters out toxins and other wastes, and what kinds of substances are showing up in your urine, can tell a doctor a lot about how well your body systems are working. Issues relating to your kidneys, liver, pancreas, or heart can all be flagged by an abnormal urine test result.
This article reviews what kinds of things routine urine tests check for, as well as normal and abnormal test ranges, and what these results might indicate.
Urine tests reveal a lot of information about you. The color, odor, and clarity of urine can be used to indicate kidney health or even signal an infection. A more detailed analysis of the substances in your urine can give other clues about how well your different organ systems are functioning.
Each body system uses a specific formula of minerals or solutions — called electrolytes — to trigger and regulate activity. Different substances play bigger roles in different areas of your body. For example, potassium can have a critical effect on your heart function, while calcium and magnesium are used by your muscles.
Many electrolytes and minerals that your body uses for normal functioning can serve a purpose in one area of the body and cause a problem in another. Balance is important, and any change in the normal range of these substances can lead to serious symptoms.
A urinalysis is a basic urine test that measures the amounts of different substances in your urine. Seeing where your results fall in — or outside of — the normal range of values can tell your doctor a lot about how well your body is working overall, or what body system might be responsible for symptoms you may be having.
Below is a list of common urinalysis tests by type, and what kinds of problems these tests might be used to identify.
- Visual inspection: This is a simple visualization of a urine sample for color and clarity. Cloudy or discolored urine can indicate an infection or various problems with your metabolism.
- Microscopic exam: With these tests, a small sample of urine is examined under a microscope for abnormal crystals, bacteria, or cell types. Infections and kidney problems are the most common problems identified with these tests.
- Dipstick test: A dipstick test uses a reactive strip of paper that will change color in the presence of certain substances. These tests can be tailored for different uses but are often used to check things such as protein or glucose levels, pregnancy and hormone levels, or drug ingestion.
- Albumin-to-creatinine ratio (uACR): This test measures the balance of your body’s primary protein type (albumin) and a waste product that comes from your muscles (creatinine). The amount of these two substances that makes it into your urine can provide a lot of information about your kidney function and how well your kidneys are filtering toxins and other substances from your body.
- Microalbumin test: This test is a more detailed version of the uACR tests. The presence of smaller albumin proteins in your urine might indicate more than just a general problem, but rather a specific diagnosis. Trace amounts of these small proteins can be found in people with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Urine culture: A urine culture uses a sample of urine observed for a few days for bacterial growth. These tests are usually used to identify specific types of bacteria and tailor antibiotic treatment when you have an infection such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
- 24-hour urine test: This test collects all the urine you produce for a 24-hour period, which is stored in multiple containers and kept cool until testing. This collection can give your doctor information that can be used to help diagnose conditions such as lupus, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Normal ranges are estimated for almost every substance in your body, from blood to sodium. Too much or too little of anything can lead to problems. If your test results fall within the normal range, it’s assumed you’re in overall good health.
Gradual changes over time — even within a normal range — or big jumps to values outside of normal ranges can give your doctor reason to take a closer look at different body systems and how well they’re working.
Normal ranges of electrolytes, cell types, and other substances commonly analyzed in urine samples are listed below.
|2–9 milligrams (mg)/24 hours
|<30 mg albumin/gram (g) creatinine per 24 hours
|5–19 micrograms (mcg)/24 hours
|100–290 mg/24 hours
|200–400 mg/24 hours
|1–17 units (U)/hour
|beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG)
|<2 milli-international units/24 hours
|<250 mg/24 hours (for those assigned female at birth)
<300 mg/24 hours (for those assigned male at birth)
|65–400 mcg/24 hours
|2–24 mcg/24 hours
|15–100 mcg/24 hours
|250–1,000 mg/24 hours
|0–100 mcg/24 hours
|50–250 mcg/24 hours
|4–50 mcg/24 hours
|0–100 mg/24 hours (female)
0–100 mg/24 hours (male)
|>12 mg/24 hours
|14–290 mg/24 hours
|80–290 milliequivalents/24 hours
|38–1,400 milliosmoles (mOsm)/kilogram (kg) H2O
|<40 mg/24 hours
|500–1,200 mg/24 hours
|<100 mg/24 hours
|<0.2 mg/1 mg
|12–20 g/24 hours
|250–750 mg/24 hours
|10–30 mcg/24 hours
Results that fall outside of the normal range on urine tests can mean a lot of different things. For each value, a high or low could be either good or bad. For certain electrolytes, the desired range for you could depend on what medical conditions you have, your age, and other factors.
Some “red flag” results when it comes to urine test results and their meaning include:
|Red flag results
|What these results might indicate
|dark colored urine
|bleeding, liver disease
|low specific gravity
|kidneys overdiluting urine (releasing too much water into the urine)
|high specific gravity
|kidneys overconcentrating urine (too little water)
|abnormal >1,000 mg/deciliter (dL), may indicate diabetes, pregnancy, gestational diabetes
|presence in urine is abnormal, may indicate diabetes
|presence is abnormal, may indicate kidney disease
|presence is abnormal, may indicate kidney disease
|presence is abnormal, may indicate bleeding disorders or liver disease
|24–408 U/24-hour collection, increased level may indicate pancreatitis or pancreatic diseases
A urine dipstick analysis is usually used to get a quick result on a particular substance. These tests use treated paper that changes color when exposed to the test substance. They’re often used to check for things such as glucose, infections, pregnancy, or drug ingestion.
Your doctor may have access to several types of rapid dipstick tests. There are also some you can buy over-the-counter to use at home.
While these tests can provide quick results, they may only be useful for showing the presence or absence of a certain substance. Laboratory or microscopic chemistry testing is usually needed to get exact urine levels that can tell you whether your results fall into the normal or expected range.
For virtually all substances in your body, there are normal ranges. Levels that are too high or too low may indicate a health issue.
Urine tests can provide useful information about your health, depending on whether your results fall within or outside the normal range of values. For some substances, such as protein, the very presence in your urine is a cause for concern, or at the very least, additional testing.
Talk with a doctor about your urine test results or to find out when rapid home tests might be useful. These at-home tests can give you limited, but quick, results. A more detailed analysis usually requires a microscopic analysis.