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Female Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS) History Taking – OSCE Guide

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Taking a comprehensive history of female lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) is an important skill often assessed in OSCEs. This guide provides a structured framework for taking a history from a female patient with LUTS in an OSCE setting.


Normal functioning of the urinary system relies upon producing a normal quantity of urine, which can be stored in a bladder of normal capacity. Voiding urine requires voluntary and involuntary neurological control of the bladder and the urethral sphincters, correctly functioning pelvic floor muscles and an unobstructed urethra.

When each part of this system functions correctly, the bladder fills as urine passes from the kidneys via the ureters. During this phase, which is under sympathetic control, there is no detrusor activity and the muscle tone of the urethral sphincter increases. 

When the bladder reaches capacity, the voiding phase (which is under parasympathetic control) begins with the relaxation of the urethral sphincter and contraction of the detrusor muscle in the bladder wall. If the person does not wish to pass urine at that time, the distal (voluntary) urethral sphincter contracts and enables the person to delay voiding. The frontal lobe controls this voluntary part of the process via the somatic nervous system.

Lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS)

A problem with this system can give rise to two broad groups of symptoms:

  • Storage symptoms (caused by problems storing urine): urgency, frequency, nocturia and incontinence
  • Voiding symptoms (caused by problems voiding urine): hesitancy,  incomplete bladder emptying and chronic retention

These symptoms are collectively called lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS).

Causes of LUTS

Over-production of urine

  • Primary (or psychogenic) polydipsia: a primarily psychological problem seen in conditions such as schizophrenia, which causes the patient to consume a greater volume of fluid than they require
  • Diabetes insipidus: an inability to concentrate urine, which may be cranial or nephrogenic in origin
  • Acute kidney injury (AKI): although most commonly associated with oliguria, in some patients, the urine volume may be increased due to reduced tubular reabsorption; additionally, during recovery from AKI, some patients experience a diuretic phase
  • Osmotic polyuria: due to hyperglycaemia (diabetes mellitus) or hypercalcaemia
  • Diuretics (particularly loop diuretics): cause increased urine production secondary to increased excretion of sodium chloride

Nocturnal polyuria can also be considered here. Whilst the overall volume of urine produced may be normal, more than 35% occurs at night, secondary to redistribution of fluid from peripheral oedema when the patient lies supine. This causes nocturia, which can be very disruptive to sleep and may increase the risk of falls. This is seen in conditions such as heart failure, liver failure and chronic venous insufficiency.

Reduction in actual bladder capacity

  • Constipation: due to pressure on the bladder from a loaded colon and/or rectum
  • Rectal tumour: due to pressure on the bladder
  • Pelvic mass: due to pressure on the bladder from ovarian tumour/cyst or uterine fibroid(s)

Reduction in functional bladder capacity

  • Overactive bladder (OAB): over-activity of the detrusor muscle causes increased bladder pressure during the filling phase. This stresses the urethral sphincter, resulting in urgency with or without urge incontinence
  • Sensory urgency (resulting from irritation or inflammation in the urinary tract): may be due to urinary tract infection (UTI), bladder pain syndrome (also known as interstitial cystitis), bladder stones, bladder tumour, or postmenopausal genitourinary syndrome; it can also be caused by caffeine and alcohol
  • Ketamine: although the precise mechanism is unknown, using ketamine can cause bladder inflammation, resulting in frequency and urgency

Loss of unconscious bladder control

  • Upper motor neuron lesions (e.g. multiple sclerosis): occurring in the pons or spinal cord; this results in a spastic bladder, with frequency, urgency, and urge incontinence. In spinal cord compression, there may be painless urinary retention.
  • Lower motor neuron lesion (e.g. trauma, malignancy): occurring in the sacral nerve roots, conus medullaris or within the pelvis; this results in a flaccid bladder with difficulty initiating micturition and overflow incontinence. In cauda equina syndrome, there may be a loss of awareness of the need to pass urine, or of the fact that urine is being passed.
  • Autonomic neuropathy (e.g. diabetes mellitus): causes an atonic bladder, which results in voiding and/or storage symptoms

Loss of voluntary bladder control

  • Damage to the frontal lobe: trauma, dementia, hydrocephalus, and tumours
  • Weakness of the pelvic floor muscles or urethral sphincter (e.g. following vaginal child birth, or hysterectomy): when intra-abdominal pressure rises (e.g. coughing or sneezing), pressure in the bladder exceeds urethral pressure, and there is leakage of urine referred to as stress incontinence

Problems with the flow of urine from the bladder through the urethra

  • Urethral stricture
  • Distortion of the normal anatomy of the urethra due to pelvic organ prolapse: cystocoele, rectocoele, uterine prolapse, or prolapse of the vaginal vault following hysterectomy
  • Presence of a fistula (abnormal connection) between the bladder and the vagina (vesico-vaginal fistula), or between the bladder and the colon (colo-vesical fistula).
  • Urinary retention secondary to antimuscarinics: such as tricyclic antidepressants
Types of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a common reason for seeking medical attention in female patients. The main types are:

  • Urge incontinence: urine leakage is preceded by a strong desire to pass urine, which may occur suddenly.
  • Stress incontinence: urine leakage is brought on by actions which increase intra-abdominal pressure, such as coughing, laughing and physical activity.
  • Mixed: a combination of urge and stress incontinence.

The less common types of incontinence are:

  • Overflow: when the bladder cannot empty normally (e.g. due to a neurological condition), it may empty spontaneously when it reaches full capacity.
  • Continuous: persistent urine leakage is seen, for example, with a vesico-vaginal fistula, where urine passes from the vagina.
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Opening the consultation

Wash your hands and don PPE if appropriate.

Introduce yourself to the patient, including your name and role.

Confirm the patient’s name and date of birth.

Explain that you’d like to take a history from the patient.

Gain consent to proceed with history taking.

General communication skills

It is important you do not forget the general communication skills which are relevant to all patient encounters. Demonstrating these skills will ensure your consultation remains patient-centred and not checklist-like (just because you’re running through a checklist in your head doesn’t mean this has to be obvious to the patient).

Some general communication skills which apply to all patient consultations include:

  • Demonstrating empathy in response to patient cues: both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Active listening: through body language and your verbal responses to what the patient has said.
  • An appropriate level of eye contact throughout the consultation.
  • Open, relaxed, yet professional body language (e.g. uncrossed legs and arms, leaning slightly forward in the chair).
  • Making sure not to interrupt the patient throughout the consultation.
  • Establishing rapport (e.g. asking the patient how they are and offering them a seat).
  • Signposting: this involves explaining to the patient what you have discussed so far and what you plan to discuss next.
  • Summarising at regular intervals.

Presenting complaint

Use open questioning to explore the patient’s presenting complaint:

  • “What’s brought you in to see me today?”
  • “Tell me about the issues you’ve been experiencing.”

Provide the patient with enough time to answer and avoid interrupting them.

Facilitate the patient to expand on their presenting complaint if required:

  • “Ok, can you tell me more about the urinary symptoms?”
Open vs closed questions

History taking typically involves a combination of open and closed questions. Open questions are effective at the start of consultations, allowing the patient to tell you what has happened in their own words. Closed questions can allow you to explore the symptoms mentioned by the patient in more detail to gain a better understanding of their presentation. Closed questions can also be used to identify relevant risk factors and narrow the differential diagnosis.

History of presenting complaint

Gather further details about the patient’s urinary symptoms using the SOCRATES acronym.


The SOCRATES acronym is a useful tool for exploring each of the patient’s presenting symptoms in more detail. It is most commonly used to explore pain but can be applied to other symptoms, although some of the elements of SOCRATES may not be relevant to all symptoms.




Clarify how and when the urinary symptoms started:

  • “How long have the urinary symptoms been going on for?”
  • “How did the urinary symptoms start? Did they come on suddenly or gradually?”

Presentation within hours to days of the onset of symptoms may suggest an infective or acute neurological cause. It may also be seen in acute hyperglycaemia, or AKI. Other causes would likely cause a more gradual onset of symptoms and a longer history before presentation.


Ask about the specific characteristics of the urinary symptoms:

  • “Can you describe what you feel when you need to pass urine?”
  • “Which symptom is the most troublesome?”

It is helpful to establish whether the symptoms primarily relate to storage or voiding of urine.

Storage vs voiding symptoms

Urgency, frequency, nocturia and incontinence suggest a storage problem. If the patient describes incontinence, ask what tends to trigger this:

  • Do you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or exercise?
  • Do you leak urine if you cannot get to the toilet in time, or do you find it difficult to put-off passing urine once you have the urge to do so?

Difficulty initiating urination, or a feeling of not having fully emptied the bladder suggest a voiding problem

Nocturia may also be seen with a voiding problem, as the bladder has not been fully emptied during the day. In some patients who cannot fully empty the bladder, chronic retention leads to nocturnal enuresis due to overflow incontinence.



Associated symptoms

Ask if there are other symptoms that are associated with the urinary symptoms:

  • “Have you noticed any other symptoms?”

Pain is a common associated symptom:

  • Dysuria (urethral pain during urination): suggests UTI or bladder pain syndrome; it may also be a symptom of bladder cancer
  • Supra-pubic or pelvic pain: UTI or bladder pain syndrome; also seen in gynaecological causes including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and ovarian tumours
  • Flank pain: pyelonephritis (where infection migrates from the bladder to one of the kidneys) or ureteric calculi
  • Groin pain: ureteric calculi (classically ‘loin to groin’ pain)
  • Lower back pain: seen in some neurological causes of LUTS, such as cauda equina syndrome; it may also occur in ovarian cancer
  • Dyspareunia: may occur in bladder pain syndrome or in postmenopausal genitourinary syndrome

Fever suggests an infective cause (e.g. pyelonephritis). 

Haematuria has a broad range of causes, including UTI, ureteric calculi, and bladder cancer.

Other symptoms that patients may experience include:

  • Abdominal bloating: a red flag for ovarian cancer
  • Menstrual abnormalities (e.g. dysmenorrhoea or heavy menstrual bleeding): may occur in gynaecological causes of LUTS
  • Menopausal/perimenopausal symptoms (e.g. hot flushes and irregular periods) 
  • Excessive thirst: either in the context of primary polydipsia or secondary to polyuria in diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus and hypercalcaemia
  • Bone pain, abdominal pain, vomiting and constipation: in the context of hypercalcaemia
  • Other neurological symptoms (e.g. limb weakness, sensory disturbance, visual disturbance, or cognitive difficulties): if there is a neurological cause of LUTS

Time course and exacerbating or relieving factors

Clarify how the symptoms change over time:

  • “Are the urinary symptoms there all the time, or do they come and go?”

Ask if anything makes the urinary symptoms worse or better:

  • “Is there anything that makes the urinary symptoms worse or better?”

Episodic symptoms may occur with:

  • Recurrent infections
  • Recurrent episodes of constipation
  • Bladder pain syndrome: symptoms may vary with the menstrual cycle, being at their worst just before the onset of menstruation; they can also be made worse by stress and certain foods
  • Exposure to causative agents, such as caffeine and alcohol
  • Diabetes mellitus, depending upon the degree of hyperglycaemia
  • Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

When symptoms are due to pelvic organ prolapse, the patient may find that they can pass urine more easily if they lie down before going to the toilet, as this reduces the degree of prolapse. They may also need to manually reduce the prolapse before they can pass urine.

Asking the patient to complete a frequency-volume chart (‘bladder diary’) is a very helpful way to gain objective information about the nature of the symptoms and possible triggers.


The severity of symptoms is not particularly helpful in guiding the diagnosis of LUTS

However, when patients report incontinence, it is important to ask about the average number of episodes of incontinence per day, and whether incontinence products, such as pads, are required to deal with it.

Red flag symptoms

Red flags for bladder cancer include:

  • Haematuria (visible or non-visible)
  • Recurrent or persistent UTI
  • Dysuria
  • Urinary frequency
  • Weight loss

Red flags for ovarian cancer include: 

  • Abdominal distension (bloating)
  • Early satiety and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Increased urinary urgency and/or frequency
  • Age >50 and symptoms suggestive of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the last 12 months
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Change in bowel habit

Ideas, concerns and expectations

A key component of history taking involves exploring a patient’s ideasconcerns, and expectations (often referred to as ICE) to gain insight into how a patient currently perceives their situation, what they are worried about and what they expect from the consultation.

The exploration of ideas, concerns and expectations should be fluid throughout the consultation in response to patient cues. This will help ensure your consultation is more naturalpatient-centred, and not overly formulaic.

It can be challenging to use the ICE structure in a way that sounds natural in your consultation, but we have provided several examples for each of the three areas below.


Explore the patient’s ideas about the current issue:

  • “What do you think the problem is?”
  • “What are your thoughts about what is happening?”
  • “It’s clear that you’ve given this a lot of thought and it would be helpful to hear what you think might be going on.”


Explore the patient’s current concerns:

  • “Is there anything, in particular, that’s worrying you?”
  • “What’s your number one concern regarding this problem at the moment?”
  • “What’s the worst thing you were thinking it might be?”


Ask what the patient hopes to gain from the consultation:

  • “What were you hoping I’d be able to do for you today?”
  • “What would ideally need to happen for you to feel today’s consultation was a success?”
  • “What do you think might be the best plan of action?


Summarise what the patient has told you about their presenting complaint. This allows you to check your understanding of the patient’s history and provides an opportunity for the patient to correct any inaccurate information.

Once you have summarised, ask the patient if there’s anything else that you’ve overlooked. Continue to periodically summarise as you move through the rest of the history.


Signposting, in a history taking context, involves explicitly stating what you have discussed so far and what you plan to discuss next. Signposting can be a useful tool when transitioning between different parts of the patient’s history and it provides the patient with time to prepare for what is coming next.

Signposting examples

Explain what you have covered so far“Ok, so we’ve talked about your symptoms, your concerns and what you’re hoping we achieve today.”

What you plan to cover next“Next I’d like to quickly screen for any other symptoms and then talk about your past medical history.”

Systemic enquiry

systemic enquiry involves performing a brief screen for symptoms in other body systems which may or may not be relevant to the primary presenting complaint. A systemic enquiry may also identify symptoms that the patient has forgotten to mention in the presenting complaint.

Deciding on which symptoms to ask about depends on the presenting complaint and your level of experience.

Some examples of symptoms you could screen for in each system include:

  • Systemic: fever, weight loss, anorexia, lethargy
  • Cardiovascular: peripheral oedema
  • Gastrointestinal: early satiety or loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, constipation, diarrhoea
  • Neurological: weakness, sensory disturbance, visual disturbance, cognitive changes
  • Gynaecological: pelvic pain, heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding, dyspareunia
  • Musculoskeletal: back pain

Past medical history

Ask if the patient has any medical conditions: 

  • “Do you have any medical conditions?”
  • “Are you currently seeing a doctor or specialist regularly?”

Ask if the patient has previously undergone any surgery (e.g. gynaecological surgery):

  • “Have you ever previously undergone any operations or procedures?”
  • “When was the operation/procedure, and why was it performed?”

If the patient does have a medical condition, you should gather more details to assess how well controlled the disease is and what treatment(s) the patient is receiving. It is also important to ask about any complications associated with the condition including hospital admissions.

Take a focused obstetric and gynaecology history:

  • Obstetric history: including the number of deliveries, the mode of each delivery, and any associated complications
  • Gynaecology history (menopause history): taking a menstrual history, including the date of the last menstrual period, is helpful
Examples of relevant medical conditions

Relevant medical conditions in the context of urinary symptoms include:

  • Diabetes mellitus (may be causing or exacerbating LUTS, but also a risk factor for infection)
  • Any previous history of malignancy
  • Neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
  • Conditions associated with renal disease, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or systemic vasculitis
  • Trauma to the head, spine, or pelvis


Ask if the patient has any allergies and if so, clarify what kind of reaction they had to the substance (e.g. mild rash vs anaphylaxis).

Drug history

Ask if the patient is currently taking any prescribed medications or over-the-counter remedies:

  • “Are you currently taking any prescribed medications or over-the-counter treatments?”

If the patient is taking prescribed or over the counter medications, document the medication namedosefrequencyform and route.

Ask the patient if they’re currently experiencing any side effects from their medication:

  • “Have you noticed any side effects from the medication you currently take?”
  • “Do you think your urinary symptoms started after you began taking any of your current medications?”
Medication examples

Medications that can cause or exacerbate LUTS include:

  • Loop diuretics, such as furosemide and bumetanide
  • Sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors, such as dapagliflozin and empagliflozin, increase the risk of UTI due to the increase in urinary glucose excretion which they promote.
  • Ketamine causes bladder inflammation, leading to pain, urgency, and frequency.
  • Drugs with anti-muscarinic effects, such as tricyclic antidepressants and sedating antihistamines, as well as anticholinergics prescribed to help with urinary incontinence, may cause urinary retention
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) can cause a chronic cough in some patients, which may exacerbate stress incontinence.

Medications that patients may already be taking to treat LUTS include:

  • An anti-cholinergic, such as solifenacin or oxybutynin, for detrusor instability
  • Mirabegron for overactive bladder

Family history

Ask the patient if there is any family history of urological problems or malignancy.

  • “Do any of your parents or siblings have any medical conditions?” 

Clarify at what age the disease developed (disease developing at a younger age is more likely to be associated with genetic factors).

If one of the patient’s close relatives are deceased, sensitively determine the age at which they died and the cause of death:

  • “I’m really sorry to hear that, do you mind me asking how old your mum was when she died?”
  • “Do you remember what medical condition was felt to have caused her death?”

Social history

General social context

Explore the patient’s general social context including:

  • the type of accommodation they currently reside in (e.g. house, bungalow) and if there are any adaptations to assist them (e.g. stairlift)
  • who else the patient lives with and their personal support network
  • what tasks they are able to carry out independently and what they require assistance with (e.g. self-hygiene, housework, food shopping)
  • if they have any carer input (e.g. twice daily carer visits)

Urinary symptoms, particularly urgency, frequency and nocturia, can increase the risk of falls in older people. It is helpful to know how easy it is for the person to get to their toilet and whether they have had any falls due to their urinary symptoms. For more information, see our guide to fall history taking.


Record the patient’s smoking history, including the type and amount of tobacco used.

Calculate the number of ‘pack-years’ the patient has smoked for to determine their cardiovascular risk profile:

  • pack-years = [number of years smoked] x [average number of packs smoked per day]
  • one pack is equal to 20 cigarettes

See our smoking cessation guide for more details.

Smoking is a risk factor for the development of bladder cancer. A ‘smoker’s cough’ may also exacerbate stress incontinence. 


Record the frequencytype and volume of alcohol consumed on a weekly basis.

See our alcohol history taking guide for more information.

Excessive alcohol use can cause or worsen LUTS.

Recreational drug use

Ask the patient if they use recreational drugs, and if so, determine the type of drugs used and their frequency of use. The use of ketamine is a risk factor for LUTS.


Exposure to chemicals, such as those used in the rubber and dye industries, is a risk factor for bladder cancer.

Closing the consultation

Summarise the key points back to the patient.

Ask the patient if they have any questions or concerns that have not been addressed.

Thank the patient for their time.

Dispose of PPE appropriately and wash your hands.


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  • Barraclough, Kevin. Cauda equina syndrome. BMJ 2021; 372:n32. Available from: [LINK]
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  • BMJ Best Practice. Bladder cancer. Available from: [LINK]
  • BMJ Best Practice. Cauda equina syndrome. Available from: [LINK]
  • BMJ Best Practice. Nephrolithiasis. Available from: [LINK]
  • BMJ Best Practice. Psychogenic Polydipsia. Available from: [LINK]
  • BMJ Best Practice. Urinary tract infections in women. Available from: [LINK]
  • Cottrell, Angela M. et al. Urinary tract disease associated with chronic ketamine use. BMJ 2008; 336. Available from: [LINK]
  • NICE CKS. Incontinence – urinary, in women. Available from: [LINK]
  • NICE CKS. Urological cancers – recognition and referral. Available from: [LINK]


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