Urine Test Strips

What are urine test strips?

Urine test strips (or urine dipsticks) are a simple tool to detect a variety of chemicals in your urine. This cheap, instant test is primarily used to check for urinary tract infections, but can also screen for a few other diseases. The only equipment needed is the urine test strip kit and a small volume of urine. The mechanism of urine test strips is complex and varied, but the ability to read them requires only the capability to compare different colors.

When would I use urine test strips?

The urine test strips can be used to test for:

Urinary tract infections: urinary tract infections (or UTIs) are typically infections of the bladder or urethra (the tract that drains urine from the bladder). Symptoms of a urinary tract infection generally include the urge to urinate frequently, burning while urinating, or a sensation of pressure where your bladder sits. Positive "leukocyte esterase" or positive "nitrites" on a urine test strip generally indicates a urinary tract infection.

Dehydration: generally, your body will be able to tell you that you’re dehydrated by showing signs of thirst, headaches, fatigue, and darker colored urine. However, the “specific gravity” on the urine test strips can sometimes differentiate between thirst and more severe dehydration. A urine "specific gravity" of >1.030 is usually indicative of dehydration.

High blood sugar from diabetes: any diabetic that regularly tests their blood sugar should ensure that they continually have access to glucose testing strips and equipment. In the unsafe situation that you don’t have your equipment, the urine test strips will generally be able to detect glucose in your urine once your blood glucose is >200 mg/dL [1]. Positive "glucose" on a urine test strip generally indicates blood sugar >200 mg/dL.

Kidney stones: kidney stones can be very painful and typically cause severe, sharp, back pain. They also often cause blood in the urine. Sometimes this blood can't be seen with the naked eye, but can be detected with urine test strips. Typical symptoms of kidney stones, plus positive "blood" on a urine test strip may indicate a kidney stone.

WARNING! Back pain with blood in the urine may also be a sign of a life threatening problem, such as an aortic aneurysm. If you are experencing this group of symptoms, seek emergency medical care.

Rhabdomyolysis: also known as “rhabdo,” this condition occurs when there is significant damage to your muscles that results in their breakdown occurring too rapidly to be handled by your kidneys. This is typically from specific instances such as a crush injury, snake bite, muscle exertion from drug overdose, electrocution, or heat stroke, but can occur from overexertion during intense exercise. Typical symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, plus positive "blood" on a urine test strip may indicate rhabdomyolysis.

WARNING! Rhabdomyolysis is a medical emergency. If you are experencing this group of symptoms, seek emergency medical care.

I used the urine test strips and all of my results came back within reference range, does this mean I don’t have to worry?

The urine test strips are very useful for certain diseases, but by no means rule out the fact that you could have any other variety of infections or diseases, some of which could be serious or even life threatening. Additionally, it’s very important to make sure your urine test strips haven’t expired. Expired urine test strips can cause false negative results (a result that incorrectly says there isn’t a disease process, when there truthfully is).

When should I seek further care?

Urine test strips are a useful tool to guide diagnosis and treatment in remote areas or when regular medical care is unavailable. However, interpretation of urine test strip results is best left to medical professionals. If you are experiencing worrysome symptoms, or think you may be having a medical emergency, seek help.

In addition to the warnings above, here are other situations in which you should seek emergency care:

If you find glucose in your urine and you don’t have a diagnosis of diabetes, you may have undiagnosed diabetes. You should seek medical care on an urgent basis if you have no symptoms, or an emergent basis if you have any symptoms of urinating more than normal, headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, drinking more than normal, or extreme thirst.

If you have symptoms of either a kidney stone or a UTI with an associated fever (generally defined as greater than 100.4 degrees F by thermometer) or elevated heart rate at rest (generally defined as greater than 100 beats per minute at rest, which you may measure with a pulse oximeter) you should seek emergency care.

Dehydration in someone who has access to water and is able to drink water is generally self-limiting. However, if you are vomiting profusely and can’t drink water and are showing signs of dehydration on your urine test strips, you should seek emergency care.

Rhabdomyolysis is a difficult diagnosis to make from the urine test strips alone. If you have significantly decreased energy, and a change in the color of your urine (beyond dark yellow), and the urine test strips indicate blood, you should seek emergency care.

Can I use urine test strips for my keto diet?

Ketosis diets or “keto” is a popular dieting strategy. The theory of this diet is that a high fat, low protein/carbohydrate diet will induce a metabolic state called ketosis. The production of ketones increases their availability as a fuel source. Ketones, like glucose, will spill into the urine when they exceed a critical number. Urine test strips are commonly used to confirm that people following a keto diet are actually in ketosis [2]. Positive "ketones" on a urine test strip indicates ketosis.