Urine Drug Test: Purpose, Types & Procedure

The hallmark of any ongoing medical treatment is to monitor its progress. Diabetics check their sugar and adjust insulin dosage accordingly. Patients beginning a regimen of blood thinners are monitored closely to ensure the correct proportion.

But what happens if these medications are defective or have somehow been metabolized before readings were taken? Practitioners would likely prescribe higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect, and if that larger dose was not motabolized as quickly as the previous was the way the previous one was, an overdose could take place. In many cases, that could prove very dangerous and even lethal. Urine testing is a common way to monitor these situations.

Where Does Urine Testing Lead Us?

The key is to monitor not just for the presence of an effect but also to verify that the medication is showing up in the correct quantities. When medication monitoring from Millennium Labs reveals the appropriate levels of medications and their byproducts in a patient's urine, practitioners can conclude that drug levels are correct in the body and that the effects being seen are true to what is expected. When there is an imbalance, doctors know that further adjustments are needed.

There are a number of other important reasons to perform such testing. In certain cases, testing may be unavailable, cost-prohibitive, or ineffective to verify a doctor's tentative diagnosis. In those cases, physicians may find it easiest to diagnose a condition by trying certain medications, with the assumption that the regimen will not be harmful if the possible diagnosis is wrong. If a patient improves after receiving a certain drug regimen that is only effective against a narrow range of conditions, medical personnel can conclude that the diagnosis was correct. If not, other options need to be explored. Monitoring the patient's levels of the drug or drugs will ensure that dosage has been at the right level to draw that conclusion; if it's too low, it will never provide a definitive answer about the patient's ailment.

Another important reason for monitoring medication levels is to avoid drug interactions. Every person's body breaks down medication differently, and if a patient has issues with the liver or kidneys, the removal of drugs from the body may take longer than expected. Sometimes a patient may complete one course of medical treatment and then immediately need another. The drugs involved in the two scenarios have an interaction risk, so it is critical that the first drug or drugs be completely gone before the new prescriptions begin. Urine testing can help practitioners make that determination accurately, minimizing the wait time between treatments and maximizing the speed of treating the newly-emerged problem.

Why Urine Instead of Blood?

People typically think of blood work as the standard for determining what is happening inside the human body, but there are situations where that information is incomplete. As noted above, many of these tests need to be repeated frequently. For many patients, that means conducting the tests several times a day. Levels can fluctuate through the day, so the person may need to test first thing in the morning and then later in the day after several hours of activity.

With multiple tests, it is easier to allow the patient to do the testing at home using dip strips or other simple procedures. At the very least, the patient can collect the specimens at home and have them taken to the lab or hospital for more complex testing. Whatever the process, urine testing at home is done far more effectively than blood testing because people simply don't like to have blood drawn, and if they are at home unsupervised, they may be sloppy with sanitary procedures or may simply not do the test due to the pain involved.

In addition, urine testing is a truer reflection of what is happening with the utilization of medicines. Drugs are processed by the body and carried out through the excretory system, leaving certain unique byproducts that are detected in the lab. Much like a footprint, these medications cannot avoid detection. The resulting profile of the substances present in a patient's urine provides reliable, helpful information that can guide doctors as they help patients through the process of diagnosing, treating, and recovering from conditions.

Blood does not contain those components if the patient's liver and kidneys are properly processing the blood, which creates two further conclusions: First, a urine test that shows no readings for the expected waste products can be an early indicator of liver or kidney problems, and second, urine is therefore more accurate because a blood test that shows nothing, tells nothing.

From a practical perspective, repeated tests are easier with urine because as long as the person is adequately hydrated, he or she can provide specimens as often as necessary. A patient with circulatory issues may struggle to provide enough blood from a finger stick, and the tenderness of consecutive days of multiple punctures can prove a disincentive to further tests.

Who May Need Frequent Testing?

In addition to the situations outlined above, many other patients can benefit from urine testing for medications. Because so many pharmaceuticals have lingering effects after use is discontinued, it can be difficult to determine the point at which a patient is no longer in need of medication. For example, if you stop a prescription on Tuesday and still feel better Friday, your doctor may conclude that you no longer need the medicine. But a urine test could reveal that you still have levels of it in your body that are continuing to provide you with a benefit, so a wise practitioner will verify that the patient is truly symptom-free once all the medication has been processed out of the body. If symptoms remain after the medicine clears out, a continuation is warranted; if the patient is asymptomatic with no medication left in the system, there's no need to continue the treatment. This helps avoid drug interactions, drug resistance, and the side effects of medication.

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