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What Does Protein in Urine Mean? (Proteinuria Symptoms)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 22, 2022

Some people are concerned that their high-protein diets and supplements will cause too much protein in the urine, a possible sign of kidney disease.

After researching and consuming protein supplements for a long time during my fitness career, I learned that elevated urine protein or proteinuria does not always indicate a kidney problem.

So, to alleviate your worries, I encourage you to keep reading and find out what urine protein means, what the possible causes and treatments are, and how to test urine protein.

Let's begin.

Quick Summary

  • Proteinuria is a medical term that refers to an elevated protein in the urine.
  • It can be caused by several minor and major underlying health issues.
  • It can also be remedied by identifying and treating the underlying cause.
  • Protein in the urine is not always a cause for worry, and it can help in the early diagnosis of kidney problems to avoid complications.

What Exactly Is Proteinuria?

doctor holding up a urine sample

Proteinuria is a condition where a random urine sample contains more than 14 mg/dl of protein. It is not a disease in itself but rather an indicator of other health issues.

In healthy kidneys, the tiny blood vessels called glomeruli filter blood and remove waste products and excess water [1].

It also functions to reabsorb proteins and keep them in the bloodstream for use by the body.

If the glomeruli do not function properly, proteins pass through the kidneys and are not adequately reabsorbed into the blood, resulting in too much protein in the urine.

Causes of Protein in Urine

Proteinuria occurs due to glomeruli inflammation, a condition known medically as Nephritis or Glomerulonephritis [2].

The inflammation is frequently aggravated by other chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and various forms of kidney diseases [3].

However, proteinuria is not always caused by kidney damage, as there are several other possible causes of a temporary rise in urine protein that are easily treated and resolved, including the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Orthostatic proteinuria
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Pre-eclampsia in pregnant women

In light of the high protein intake, research indicates that it may increase the risk of kidney failure in people with kidney disease but has no adverse effect on kidney function in healthy individuals [4].

"Overconsumption of protein can damage your kidneys over time since they have to work extra hard to metabolize the protein." - Nikola Djordjevic, MD. University of Belgrade

Finally, proteinuria can be caused by various severe and rare diseases.

Autoimmune diseases such as IgA Nephropathy and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus trigger the immune system to produce autoantibodies that attack the body's tissues, resulting in kidney damage and proteinuria [5].

In severe cases, proteinuria can be caused by Nephrotic syndrome, Intravascular hemolysis, and blood cancer, including multiple myeloma [6]. The body loses more protein in the urine, resulting in further damage to the kidneys.

What Are the Symptoms of Proteinuria?

woman seated on a bowl

Mildly elevated urine protein levels may not manifest symptoms immediately, mainly if the kidneys are in the early stages of the disease.

Nonetheless, as the disease progresses, the kidneys sustain more significant damage, resulting in a variety of symptoms, including:

  • The foamy, frothy, and bubbly appearance of urine
  • Edema or swelling usually in the face, abdomen, legs, and ankles
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle cramps at night
  • Tiredness and fatigue

If you experience these symptoms, you must seek immediate medical attention.

Testing and Diagnosis

container of urine and blood sample

A random urine sample is collected and tested to detect proteinuria.

Spot Urine Test

A laboratory analyst may use a chemical-containing plastic strip called a dipstick to detect protein in the urine. The color changes according to the protein concentration in your urine.

The analyst then examines a urine sample under a microscope for crystals that may develop into kidney stones. Furthermore, white blood cells and red blood cells are analyzed to rule out infection or kidney disease.

If the doctor detects persistent urine protein during subsequent retests, he may order other tests like a 24-hour urine test to evaluate other kidney conditions.

Additional tests may include the following:

Blood Test

Kidney profile blood tests such as blood sugar creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, albumin, electrolytes, eGFR are performed in the clinical chemistry section of the laboratory.

24-Hour Urine Test for Protein / Albumin-To-Creatinine Ratio

The doctor may instruct you to test for a 24-hour urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio to evaluate the level of protein in your urine, specifically albumin.

The National Kidney Foundation defines an average urine albumin level as less than 30 mg/g. Any amount more significant than this may be indicative of kidney disease.

If chronic kidney disease is further suspected, the doctor may require you to undergo imaging tests like ultrasound, CT scan, and a simple surgical procedure like kidney biopsy.

What Is the Best Way to Get Rid of Protein in Urine?

doctor taking notes while talking to a patient

The best way to get rid of protein in the urine is to identify the underlying medical condition and treat it accordingly.

Proteinuria is not a disease that requires treatment; instead, it is a sign of another underlying condition.

If a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure and the condition is causing protein in the urine, the patient may be prescribed a blood pressure medication like angiotensin receptor blockers to manage the fluctuations in blood pressure.

Is Protein in Urine a Serious Problem?

Protein in urine is not always a severe problem because the underlying cause may or may not be hurtful.

Furthermore, not everyone has a genetic predisposition to develop proteinuria. Numerous risk factors, including old age, a family history of immune disorders, high blood pressure, and obesity, lead to a higher risk of developing proteinuria.

If your urinalysis reveals a positive protein result, seek medical advice on the following steps to further assess your condition.

It may be a temporary condition that you can resolve by simply drinking enough water or supplementing the right amount of protein every day.

As the adage goes, prevention is preferable to cure. High protein in urine can help you detect kidney disease early on, allowing you to begin a treatment plan sooner and avoid serious health complications.


References:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/
  2. https://kidney.org.au/uploads/resources/
  3. https://www.everydayhealth.com/kidney-diseases/
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/
  5. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/
  6. https://unckidneycenter.org/

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