Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

Routine urine tests are part of prenatal visits to screen for infection or other conditions. Testing for the presence of protein in the urine (proteinuria) is necessary to determine if your kidney function is normal. Although proteins are normally absent in the urine, having a small amount of it during pregnancy is common. It can indicate kidney dysfunction, but it can also be related to infection, stress, or other conditions that need to be evaluated further.

Causes of Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

1. Preeclampsia

Women with this condition have high blood pressure during pregnancy, accompanied by water retention and protein in their urine. It can lead to complications, including babies with low birth weight. However, if diagnosed and treated early, affected women can deliver normal babies. Treatment includes consuming a healthy, low salt diet and engaging in regular exercise as recommended.

Watch a video for more on Preeclampsia:

2. Kidney Infection or Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

UTI during pregnancy can cause protein to appear in the urine. If you feel the urge to urinate more frequently and suffer some discomfort during urination, you may have a UTI. If not treated promptly, this condition can cause kidney infection, which manifests as fever and chills, nausea, vomiting, and back pains. UTI may not adversely affect your baby, but a kidney infection can lead to premature labor and low birth weight babies.

3. Other Causes

Factors that can cause transient increases in urinary protein include emotional stress, fever, exposure to extreme temperatures, dehydration, medications and strenuous exercise. Some medical conditions, however, can cause proteinuria that needs further investigation, such as heart disease, diabetes, leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sickle cell anemia, and chronic kidney disease.

To know the exact cause of protein in urine during pregnancy, consult your doctor immediately to receive appropriate treatment and prevent complications.

How to Test If Protein in Urine During Pregnancy Is Normal or Serious?

Your doctor can diagnose if you have protein in urine during a regular prenatal test. Finding protein in urine may be a sign of urinary tract infection. Further laboratory analysis of the urine may be needed to determine what type of infection you have and the appropriate antibiotics to treat it.

Another urine test may be done during your next appointment to see if protein is still present in the urine or if it has increased in amount. Women who are in their second or third trimester may develop preeclampsia, a serious condition that can affect you and the baby.

Preeclampsia causes an increase in blood pressure and adversely affects kidney function, resulting in retention of waste products in the body. Proteins normally found in the blood leak from the kidneys into the urine, leading to proteinuria.

To diagnose preeclampsia, your blood pressure will be monitored and your urine examined for proteinuria. A 24-hour urine collection may be done to determine how much proteins are in your urine as well as blood tests to check on your blood count, blood clotting, liver, and kidney function.

When to See a Doctor

During mid-pregnancy and onwards, watch out for symptoms such as:

  • blurring of vision
  • flashing in your eyes
  • headaches
  • vomiting
  • pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • a general feeling of being sick

These symptoms must prompt you to seek immediate treatment.

What Other Things Do Urine Tests During Pregnancy Detect?

Aside from protein, your doctor examines your urine during your prenatal visits to screen for other conditions, which may be indicated by the presence of:

1. Sugar

Although small amounts of sugar in the urine is normal during pregnancy, elevated levels seen in consecutive prenatal visits or even one very high reading could mean you have a condition called gestational diabetes. The doctor may also ask you to take a glucose challenge between the 24th and 28th weeks to check for this common condition.

2. Ketones

These are substances not normally produced by the body except when it starts breaking down fat, in the absence of carbohydrates, for energy. If found with sugar in the urine, diabetes is suspected. Symptoms of ketonuria (ketones in urine) include severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and dehydration.

3. Bacteria and Blood Cells

Symptoms of urinary tract infection may be further evaluated with a dipstick test to look for enzymes produced by blood cells or nitrites from bacteria. If found positive, a culture and sensitivity test will be conducted on the urine sample. This test confirms the presence of infection and suggests which antibiotics may be used to treat infection effectively.

Screening for UTI is important even in women who do not experience any symptoms. The risk of developing UTI late in pregnancy is relatively small if your urine test is found negative for UTI during your first prenatal consultation.