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What is Proteinuria?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Proteinuria is a medical term used to describe high levels of protein in the urine. Under normal conditions, people do not have protein in their urine because structures in the kidneys known as glomeruli filter out proteins so that they can be reused by the body. In people with this condition, the protein indicates that there is a medical problem which needs to be addressed.

The cause of proteinuria is kidney damage which interferes with the function of the glomeruli, so that they cannot filter out protein. Glomerulonephritis, in which these structures become inflamed, is a common cause. Proteinuria is also associated with cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, and diabetes, all of which can put strain on the kidneys so that they cannot function normally. Protein in the urine can also be caused by infections and inflammations of the urinary tract.

Some people develop edema, especially in their hands and feet. The swelling of the hands and feet may be uncomfortable, and it can mean that shoes and rings will not fit as they normally would. Foamy urine, caused by a change in surface tension, can also develop in people with high levels of protein in their urine. Other individuals develop no symptoms, only discovering the problem during a medical exam.

This condition is diagnosed by taking a urine sample from a patient and analyzing it. Many labs have a simple “dipstick test” in which a strip coated in protein-sensitive material is dipped into the urine to check for the presence of protein. It is also possible to analyze the urine chemically. Albumin is the protein most commonly present in patients with this condition, although other proteins can be present as well.

Proteinuria is simply a symptom of an underlying medical condition. By treating the cause, the excess protein in the urine will usually be resolved as well. Because kidney problems can lead to very serious medical issues, the presence of excess protein in the urine is a cause for concern and it should be addressed by a doctor.

In athletes, proteinuria sometimes develops after exercise, and it may be revealed on drug testing or routine physical examinations. Originally, doctors thought that this was a sign of kidney damage, but subsequent studies have suggested that this is actually normal, especially for young athletes. If the athlete rests in a reclining position and then repeats the test, the protein levels should drop back to normal.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon346915 — On Sep 02, 2013

My son has had Nephrotic Syndrome since he was three years old. He was treated with steroids, initially Wysolone. He relapses every now and then and one time, he relapsed after three years. Now he is 19 years old and still his relapses are continuing. He sometimes has four plus albumin in his urine and was taking Omnocortal 60 mg, and gradually tapering to 5 mg. The albumin in his urine stops immediately when he is on medication. We are doing urine tests regularly to rule out albumin presence.

I am very much worried and I do not know when this will stop. Please advise me what causes this and what he should eat to strengthen his kidneys. Please advise.

By Farah1 — On Jun 29, 2011

This is a very thorough article. Thanks for writing it.

I am a pediatrician, so I often times see high levels of protein in the urine of older children or teenagers. Doctors refer to this as orthostatic proteinuria because it the protein levels of the urine go up when the child is standing. Strangely, when the child lies down, the protein levels return to normal. We doctors are confused by this phenomenon, and we do not know why it happens.

Under most circumstances, the child does not face any major health risk from proteinuria. However, if parents notice that their child's ankles, legs, or even eyelids are swelling, then they should see a doctor. This swelling is caused by a lack or protein in the body and needs to be treated. Medication can be taken to ease the swelling and a better diet can restore protein levels to where they should be.

It is very interesting that with all of our medical advancements, we cannot find an answer to the reason why children's bodies behave differently than adults when it comes to protein the urine.

By SuperJD — On Jun 28, 2011

My thirteen year old son is very observant. So when he told me that he noticed that his urine was cloudy and foamy, I immediately made an appointment with his pediatrician. She took urine sample, and determined that he had proteinuria.

The doctor ran some more tests to see what was causing his high protein levels. His kidneys and other organs were working fine. The doctor said that since he plays soccer a lot, it is normal for his urine to have high protein levels.

She ordered him to start drinking more water and eating less salty foods, as proteinura can be caused by dehydration. Thankfully, he is okay, and his only crime was being too active!

By epiphany5 — On Jun 28, 2011

A few years ago, my sister had a routine urine test with her yearly physical. The labs showed that she had high levels of protein in her urine. The doctors did more tests to determine the cause of her high protein levels, and they discovered that she had type II diabetes.

Honestly, I was not surprised when she told me what she had been diagnosed with. Both of our father and mother had diabetes, and with her poor diet and lack of exercise, it was only a matter of time before she developed it as well.

Thankfully, she caught it early and is disciplined enough to control it. Now, she eats a lot better and goes for a brisk walk every evening. She also is very good on checking her blood sugar levels every day.

It is amazing how much our urine can tell us about what is going on inside our bodies.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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