Millions with bladder weakness may finally be spared embarrassment thanks to ‘game-changer’ test

Millions of people with bladder weakness may finally be spared embarrassment thanks to new diagnostic test. 

One in five people have an overactive bladder, which means having to go to the toilet often or suffering leakages. 

Now scientists are a step closer in the development of a ‘game-changer’ test which will diagnose the problem quicker.

They have identified chemicals in the urine caused by an overactive bladder, which could be picked up by something similar to a pregnancy test.

Diagnosing an overactive bladder is a cumbersome process because its symptoms are similar to other disorders, leading to a range of costly tests. 

But getting treatment with speed would stop the condition worsening. It’s not uncommon for patients to end up wearing sanitary towels in their underwear to deal with leakages.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth are a step closer in the development of a 'game-changer' test which will diagnose an overactive bladder quicker, slowing the condition's progression.  One in five people have an overactive bladder

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth are a step closer in the development of a ‘game-changer’ test which will diagnose an overactive bladder quicker, slowing the condition’s progression.  One in five people have an overactive bladder 

Dr John Young and Dr Sepinoud Firouzmand, both in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at University of Portsmouth, published their research in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

Dr Young, 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. 

‘This is the first step in transforming the lives of millions of people who suffer in silence, too embarrassed to go out or even to speak about their condition.

‘It is not too strong to say this could be a game changer.’

Using 95 participants referred to the Urology Department at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Dr Young and colleagues found patients with overactive bladders had more of the chemical ATP in their urine. 

If clinical trials bear out the development, the test would allow treatment for the condition to begin much earlier.

The device, which patients would urinate on like a pregnancy test, is a year or two from clinical trials, but the early signs are encouraging. 


An overactive bladder causes a sudden urge to urinate. The urge may be difficult to stop, and may lead to involuntary urinating – accidental leakages.

An overactive bladder occurs because the muscles of the bladder start to contract involuntarily even when the volume of urine in the bladder is low. This involuntary contraction creates the urgent need to urinate.

Several conditions may contribute to signs and symptoms of overactive bladder. These include:

  • Neurological disorders, such as stroke and multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Medications that cause a rapid increase in urine production or require that you take them with lots of fluids
  • Acute urinary tract infections that can cause symptoms similar to an overactive bladder
  • Abnormalities in the bladder, such as tumors or bladder stones
  • Factors that obstruct bladder outflow — enlarged prostate, constipation or previous operations to treat other forms of incontinence
  • Excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol
  • Ageing, which may make it more difficult fort the bladder to understand signals it receives from your brain 
  • Incomplete bladder emptying, which may lead to symptoms of overactive bladder, as you have little urine storage space left 

Urinary disorders, including bladder control problems, affect 20 per cent of the population as a whole. By the age of 50, one in three people will have a urinary disorder.

It stems from a problem with the detrusor muscles, located in the bladder wall. Normally, they relax to allow the bladder to fill, and contract when it is full. 

In overactive bladder, the muscles contract too often, creating an urgent need to urinate even when the bladder is not full.  

Diagnosing an overactive bladder – when a patient needs to urinate very often, including through the night – is typically a lengthy process. 

Doctors have to 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. 

Tests for bladder function, which requires a referral to a specialist, includes an ultrasound whereby a thin tube is inserted into the urethra and into the bladder to measure how much urine is left after urinating. 

While being costly for healthcare providers such as the NHS, it can be extremely painful and distressing for the patient. 

By the time a diagnosis comes back, the patients’ health has often worsened.

The dipstick test Dr Young and colleagues are proposing would cost about £10, saving potentially millions of pounds.

It would only take a few minutes to give an accurate result.

‘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.’

Treatment could start immediately, long before a barrage of debilitating symptoms that can leave sufferers feeling isolated because they are worried about wetting themselves in public. 

Usually first-line treatment is bladder training exercises to improve control. Drugs can help tone the bladder muscles and reduce episodes of urge incontinence.

But may have side-effects such as dry mouth, dry eyes and constipation.