A urine-specific gravity test compares the density of urine with the density of water. The test may help healthcare professionals identify dehydration, a kidney problem, or a condition like diabetes insipidus.

The test shows the concentration of particles in urine. It involves collecting a urine sample for testing in a laboratory. Read on to learn more about the urine-specific gravity test and what the results may mean.

lab technician analayzing urine samples (from urine specific gravity tests)Share on Pinterest
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Doctors consider the result of a urine-specific gravity test to be normal if it is within the range 1.003–1.030.

However, doctors cannot specify low, acceptable, or high values because many factors can affect urine composition. Urine-specific gravity is only one measure of health.

If a doctor identifies an unusual result, they may recommend further testing to determine if an underlying condition is causing the urine changes.

Additional urine testing may include:

  • urine culture
  • urine osmolality
  • urine pH
  • ketone testing

Results from these other tests will help make an accurate diagnosis.

Learn more about urinalysis here.

Causes of high readings

High specific gravity suggests that the concentration of urine is too high. This can be a sign of dehydration, and the doctor may recommend drinking more clear fluids.

Conditions that cause high specific gravity include:

High levels of certain substances in the urine can also cause high specific gravity.

Substances include:

Learn more about red blood cells in the urine here.

Causes of low readings

Low specific gravity suggests that urine is too diluted. The person may be drinking too much fluid or have a condition that makes them thirsty.

Conditions that cause low specific gravity include:

Hyponatremia can result from some of these conditions. If a person has hyponatremia, sodium levels in the body are too low.

Learn what happens where there is too much sodium in the body.

Other factors that can affect results

Other factors that may give an inaccurate result include:

  • exposing the sample to light and temperature, which can change the composition of some particles
  • bacterial growth
  • alkaline pH
  • glucose, which can affect pH
  • contrast agents used in scans and other procedures
  • recent exercise
  • some foods, such as beetroot, rhubarb, blackberries, and food colorings
  • some medications, including ibuprofen, chloroquine, and metronidazole

Learn more about the pH levels of urine here.

Urine specific gravity and urine color

If a person has concerns about whether they are consuming enough fluid, checking their urine color may help. Urine tends to be darker and has higher specific gravity when a person does not drink enough fluids.

Urine is lighter and has lower specific gravity when a person is well-hydrated.

If a person continues to have dark urine after consuming extra fluid, it may be time to speak with a doctor.

Urine-specific gravity tests can give a more precise measurement of the urine’s concentration than just looking at the color alone.

Learn more about what different colors of urine can mean.

If urine specific gravity is high due to dehydration, a doctor may recommend:

  • drinking more clear fluids, especially water
  • consuming foods containing water, such as soups or jello
  • having intravenous fluids if the person is unable to take fluids by mouth

If urine-specific gravity is high for another reason, such as diarrhea or shock, the doctor will investigate and treat the underlying cause.

Learn more about how to manage dehydration here.

If urine specific gravity is low, a person may have a health condition that causes them to drink a lot of fluid or affects their kidney function.

A doctor may:

  • ask the person about any other symptoms
  • ask if they have been drinking large amounts of fluid
  • suggest further tests to identify the cause of the problem

A person does not need to think about raising their urine specific gravity. A doctor would need to find and correct the underlying cause. Addressing the cause can help normalize the specific gravity.

Learn more about what happens if you drink too much fluid.

Urine contains solutes, or soluble particles. If it did not contain these particles, urine specific gravity would be 1.000, the same as water. Urine-specific gravity measures how many particles are in a person’s urine compared with water.

The higher the number of particles in the urine, the higher the urine specific gravity.

If there are more particles than in water, urine will be denser, and the specific gravity will be higher. Particles present in the urine may include glucose, proteins, and ketones.

Learn about mucus in the urine here.

The test should not be uncomfortable and is usually brief. The doctor might request multiple urine-specific gravity tests in one day to see how well the kidneys compensate for a possible problem.

The doctor may ask the person to collect a “clean catch” specimen to prevent contaminating the sample with bacteria from the skin.

To collect a clean catch specimen, a person should:

  1. Wash their hands and have the container ready for use, taking care to touch only the outside.
  2. Clean the urethral area.
  3. Begin urinating, then hold the container under the stream.
  4. Collect at least 1 ounce (oz), or 30 milliliters (ml), of urine, as shown on the side of the container.
  5. Replace the cover securely, touching only the outside of the pot.
  6. Wash the hands thoroughly and follow any instructions for delivering the pot to the doctor or a lab for testing.

A laboratory technician performs the test using a refractometer, which projects light into the sample and helps determine the density of the urine.

Learn more about the kidneys and how they work here.

Preparation for a urine-specific gravity test is typically straightforward.

Before the test, the doctor may ask the person to stop taking certain medications or to avoid some foods, such as beets and rhubarb, as these may affect the results.

People should also let their doctor know if they have recently received intravenous contrast dye for a medical test.

Learn more about how foods and medications can affect urine here.

A urine-specific gravity test is a straightforward test that looks at a person’s urine concentration. The person will need to collect a clean urine sample for testing in a laboratory.

Urine concentration can show how well the kidneys are functioning or indicate an underlying condition that is altering the body’s fluid status.

A urine-specific gravity test cannot diagnose a condition, but it can play a role in identifying underlying health conditions ranging from kidney failure to dehydration.