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If you have urinary incontinence, see your GP so they can find out the type of condition you have.

Try not to be embarrassed speaking to your GP about your incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem. It's likely your GP has seen many people with the condition.

Your GP will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history, including:

  • if the urinary incontinence happens when you cough or laugh
  • if you need to go to the toilet often during the day or night
  • if you have any difficulty peeing when you go to the toilet
  • if you're taking any medicines
  • how much water, alcohol or caffeine you drink

Bladder diary

Your GP may suggest that you keep a diary of your bladder habits for at least 3 days. This is so you can give them as much information as possible about your condition.

This should include details such as:

  • how much you drink
  • what you drink
  • how often you need to pee
  • the amount of pee you have
  • how many times  a day you have incontinence
  • how many times you have an urgent need to go to the toilet

Tests and examinations

You may need to have some tests and examinations. This is so your GP can confirm or rule out things that may be causing your incontinence.

Physical examination

Your GP may examine you to find out the health of your urinary system.

If you're female, your GP will carry out a pelvic examination. This usually involves undressing from the waist down. You may be asked to cough to see if any urine leaks out.

Your GP may also examine your vagina. In over half of women with stress incontinence, part of the bladder may bulge into the vagina.

Your GP may place their finger inside your vagina and ask you to squeeze it with your pelvic floor muscles.

These are the muscles that surround your bladder and urethra. Damage to your pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary incontinence.

The urethra is the tube urine passes through out of the body.

If you're male, your GP may check if your prostate gland is enlarged. It is located between the penis and bladder, and surrounds the urethra.

If it's enlarged, it can cause symptoms of urinary incontinence, such as a frequent need to pee.

You may also need a digital rectal examination. This will involve your GP putting their finger into your bottom to check the health of your prostate gland.

Dipstick test

If your GP thinks your symptoms may be caused by a urinary tract infection, they will test a sample of your pee.

A small chemically treated stick is dipped into your urine sample. It will change colour if bacteria are present. The dipstick test can also check the blood and protein levels in your urine.

Residual urine test

If your GP thinks you may have overflow incontinence, they may suggest a residual urine test. This is to see how much urine is left in your bladder after you go for a pee.

This is usually done by carrying out an ultrasound scan of your bladder. Sometimes the amount of urine in your bladder is measured after it's been drained with a catheter.

A catheter is a thin, flexible tube. It's inserted into your urethra and then into your bladder.

Other tests

More tests may be necessary if the cause of your urinary incontinence is not clear. Your GP will usually start treating you first. They may suggest these tests if treatment is not working.


A cystoscopy uses an instrument called an endoscope. It looks inside your bladder and urinary system. This test can identify abnormalities that may be causing incontinence.

Urodynamic tests

These are a group of tests used to check the function of your bladder and urethra. This may include keeping a bladder diary for a few days. You may then need to do test at a hospital or clinic. 

Tests can include:

  • measuring the pressure in your bladder by inserting a catheter into your urethra
  • measuring the pressure in your tummy (abdomen) by inserting a catheter into your bottom
  • asking you to urinate into a special machine that measures the amount and flow of urine

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 10 August 2021
Next review due: 10 August 2024