The bladder and urethra are both located in the body’s lower urinary tract and have important functions. The bladder is a muscular organ that stores urine inside the body. Urine then flows out of a tube called the urethra when the bladder is emptied.
Sometimes, though, the bladder and urethra do not function as they’re meant to. In some cases, the sphincter muscles located at the bottom of the bladder become weakened, or the bladder muscle becomes overactive. In both of these instances, urine can involuntarily leak out of the body.
When this occurs, there are a number of tests that urologists (doctors specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of urologic conditions) can perform in order to determine the cause of urinary incontinence. Many providers will begin with a review of the symptoms, a physical examination and possibly simple urine tests.
If these tests do not provide enough information, doctors may choose to perform what is called urodynamic testing. Simply put, urodynamic testing looks at how well the bladder can hold urine and how well the bladder can empty steadily and fully. For those who suffer from urinary incontinence, urodynamic testing may provide more detailed answers.
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There are also other cases besides urinary incontinence in which urodynamic testing may be suggested:
▪ Frequent urination
▪ Painful urination
▪ Difficulty beginning urination
▪ Difficulty emptying the bladder completely
▪ A weak or irregular flow of urine
▪ Frequent urinary tract infections
▪ Nerve damage to the bladder from spinal cord injury or other neurological conditions
Urodynamic testing takes about an hour to perform in the doctor’s office and is generally painless. To prepare for the study, patients should talk with their doctor about any medicines they might be taking. They might also want to keep a diary of bathroom habits for a few days, which can be helpful during the study. Finally, patients will likely be asked to arrive for the study with a full bladder.
During the study, one or more of the following tests may be performed, including the following:
Uroflowmetry: This type of screening is performed by urinating into a funnel. It measures the total amount and how quickly urine voids from the bladder.
Cystometry: In this test, a catheter will fill the bladder with sterile water or saline to evaluate how much the bladder can hold and the strength of the bladder muscle.
Electromyogram: In this study, the muscles that control urination are tested by using electrode patches or wires.
Pressure flow study: Often performed after cystometry, this test measures pressures during urination.
After the urodynamic testing, the urologist will often discuss the results of the study and options for treatment.
To learn more about urodynamic testing or the comprehensive urology services at Mount Nittany Physician Group, visit moutnittany.org/urology or call 238-8418. Urology services are provided in State College, Mifflin County, Clearfield and Altoona.
Howard Miller is an urologist at Mount Nittany Physician Group.