Scientists have identified chemicals in urine that are specific to overactive bladder. This could lead the way to a new dipstick test that will reduce diagnosis times and allow treatment to be started before debilitating symptoms.

Urinary disorders affect 20% of the population as a whole. By the age of 50, one in three people will have a urinary disorder.

Diagnosing an overactive bladder can be a long process as clinicians need to first rule out a wide range of possible diseases and conditions with the same symptoms, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes, cystitis, and a urinary tract infection. 

People with overactive bladder are not able to hold in urine, needing to go to the toilet often, or waking in the night to empty their bladder. Some wear sanitary towels or disposable underwear, while others worry that even with absorbent underwear, they'll smell of urine, so they choose instead to stay at home.

Dipstick test for overactive bladder 

The dipstick test would cost about £10 and take a few minutes to give an accurate result. Treatment could start immediately, long before the sometimes debilitating symptoms have forced a patient to wear sanitary products, or to stop going out altogether to avoid wetting themselves in public.

Dr John Young from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Portsmouth who led the research, said: "The first step has been to identify chemicals in urine that are specific to overactive bladder. The next step is to develop a gadget for use in GPs, pharmacies and nursing or care homes which is simple to use, accurate and doesn't need to be sent to a laboratory for processing.

"If successful, it would save millions of patients from painful procedures and long waits for a diagnosis. It is not too strong to say this could be a game changer."

Millions of people might eventually be spared the embarrassment and extreme isolation caused by the condition because if clinical trials bear out the development, it would allow treatment for the condition to begin much earlier.

"It'd be as simple as a pregnancy test," Dr Young said. "Effective treatment is early treatment. When left untreated, the bladder can change. Additional nerves, blood vessels and cells grow, leaving it smaller than before. It isn't good enough that so many millions of people feel forced to isolate themselves in their homes, avoiding all social interaction, with a condition which if caught early, has treatments which can help."