Proteinuria is high levels of protein in your urine. Causes may include relatively harmless conditions, including dehydration or intense exercise, or more serious, including kidney disease or immune disorders. Testing can confirm proteinuria, and a treatment plan can help you manage it.
Proteinuria (pro-tee-nyur-ee-uh) is a high level of protein in your urine (pee). This condition can be a sign of kidney damage.
Proteins have many important functions, including:
Proteins should remain in your blood. If proteins enter your pee, they ultimately leave your body, which can harm your overall health.
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Yes, protein in your urine is serious. Proteinuria may increase your risk of death from heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
Occasionally, proteinuria is an early sign of chronic kidney disease (CKD), although you can have CKD and have normal levels of protein in your urine. CKD is a gradual loss of your kidney functions, which may eventually require a kidney replacement therapy, dialysis or kidney transplant. Diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) pressure can damage your kidneys. They’re the two most common causes of kidney disease.
Anyone can get proteinuria. However, you may be more likely to get proteinuria if you:
Proteinuria is relatively common. About 6.7% of the United States population has proteinuria.
Protein gets into your pee if your kidneys aren’t working correctly.
Glomeruli (glo-mare-yoo-lye) are groups of tiny blood vessels in your kidneys. They perform the first stage of filtering waste products and excess water from your blood. The waste products and excess water leave your body through your pee. Glomeruli don’t allow passage of larger proteins or blood cells into your pee. If smaller proteins sneak through your glomeruli, then long, thin tubes in your kidneys (tubules) recover the proteins and keep them in your body.
Proteins may flow into your pee if there’s:
You may not have any symptoms in the early stages of proteinuria. In advanced stages of proteinuria, symptoms may include:
These symptoms are also symptoms of chronic kidney disease. If you have these symptoms — especially foamy pee and swelling — you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.
In many cases, relatively benign (noncancerous) or temporary medical conditions cause proteinuria. These conditions may include:
Intense exercise, stress, taking aspirin every day (aspirin therapy) and exposure to cold temperatures can also trigger proteinuria.
More serious medical conditions can also damage your kidneys and cause proteinuria. These conditions may include:
A normal amount of protein in your pee is less than 150 milligrams per day. If you have more than 150 milligrams of protein in your pee per day, you have proteinuria. The upper limit of normal can vary a bit between laboratories.
If you have 3 to 3.5 grams of protein in your pee per day, you have nephrotic-range proteinuria. Nephrotic syndrome is a relatively rare condition that causes your kidneys to release an excessive amount of protein in your pee.
No, proteinuria isn’t contagious. However, you may be more likely to have proteinuria if other members of your biological family have it.
Your healthcare provider will use a dipstick test to help diagnose proteinuria. During a dipstick test, you’ll pee into a special container at your healthcare provider’s office or a hospital. Then, your healthcare provider will place a thin plastic stick coated with special chemicals (dipstick) into the container. If too much of a protein is in your pee, the dipstick changes color.
Your healthcare provider will conduct a urinalysis (urine test) on the rest of your pee. A urinalysis examines your pee’s visual, chemical and microscopic aspects under a microscope. Your healthcare provider looks for substances that don’t belong in your pee. These substances may include red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria and salt or protein crystals that can develop into kidney stones.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have kidney disease, you’ll repeat a urine test three times over three months. If your urine samples test positive for the presence of proteins each time, you likely have a chronic (long-lasting) disease. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance your healthcare providers can slow kidney disease and stop it from progressing.
Additional tests may include:
Proteinuria treatment depends on its cause. Each cause requires different treatments.
If kidney disease causes proteinuria, your treatment plan may include medication, diet changes and exercise. Your healthcare provider may prescribe blood pressure medication if you have high blood pressure. If you have low blood pressure, you should schedule annual urine tests and blood pressure checks.
If you have diabetes, you may need to manage your blood sugar. You should also receive GFR blood tests every year.
Pregnant people with a history of preeclampsia should schedule regular checkups with their healthcare provider. Though preeclampsia is a serious condition, it typically goes away days to weeks after your baby is born.
If you have proteinuria but don’t have diabetes, high blood pressure or any other medical condition, your healthcare provider may prescribe blood pressure medication to help prevent kidney damage. It’s a good idea to have your blood pressure checked and urine tested every six months to ensure you don’t have kidney disease.
If you have mild or temporary proteinuria, you may not need treatment.
No, drinking more water won’t treat proteinuria. Drinking more water will make you pee more, so there may be less protein every time you pee, but it won’t stop your kidneys from leaking protein.
The best way to take care of yourself is to take your medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Other ways to help take care of yourself include:
You can’t prevent proteinuria. However, you can manage it. Many conditions that cause proteinuria are treatable with medications and lifestyle changes.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, the outlook for people with proteinuria is good.
Without treatment, proteinuria may cause death. Studies suggest that people who don’t have proteinuria have a longer life expectancy than people with heavy or even mild proteinuria.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
Orthostatic proteinuria (postural proteinuria) is a condition in which there is a high amount of protein in your urine when you pee standing up but a normal amount of protein in your urine when you pee while lying on your back (supine).
Transient proteinuria is temporary. Causes typically include intense exercise, stress, fever and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Transient proteinuria usually goes away on its own.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Proteinuria is high levels of protein in your pee. If you have proteinuria, you may have to pee more often, and your pee may be foamy or bubbly. You may have general feelings of illness, including nausea, vomiting, tiredness and swelling. If you have any of these symptoms for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you diagnose a condition that’s causing your proteinuria and prescribe treatments that help keep your kidneys healthy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2022.
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