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What Causes Protein in the Urine?

A urine sample.
Polycystic kidney disease and other kidney problems can cause protein in the urine.
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  • Written By: Melissa Barrett
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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Protein in the urine results from either excess protein in the body or impaired kidney function. This condition, called proteinuria, is usually short-lived and benign. In other more serious instances, increased urine protein levels can be indications of dangerous medical conditions.

Any significant stress to the body can result in a temporary increase in the levels of protein in the urine. During exercise, for example, protein is released into the bloodstream by the muscles. Even completely healthy kidneys often cannot filter all this excess protein, and some is lost into urine. A similar process occurs in individuals who are exposed to extreme temperatures or under emotional stress. These elevated protein levels are temporary and relatively harmless.

Temporary excesses of protein in the urine can also be caused by certain medications. Antibiotics, including penicillin, oxacillin, and methicillin, can occasionally make kidneys less effective. In addition, many medicines used to treat kidney and bladder infections may cause changes in kidney function. Occasional use of these medications is generally quite safe for patients who have healthy kidneys. Patients who will be taking these medicines for extended periods of time may require periodic testing of kidney functions.

A chronically high level of protein in urine is commonly a sign of underlying health issues. In these cases, kidney health is, obviously, the first area of investigation. Often, very treatable conditions like kidney and bladder infections are the culprits.

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The presence of cysts on or within the kidneys can also lead to increased urine protein. Frequently, these are simple cysts with no specific causes. Seldom do these cysts require surgical intervention. In some cases, however, kidney cysts can be caused by serious genetic conditions such as polycystic kidney disease or medullary cystic kidney disease. These conditions cause multiple reoccurring cysts and often lead to significant kidney damage.

Many illnesses can lead to kidney damage and chronic kidney failure. Diabetic kidney damage is among the most common causes, but high blood pressure can also frequently be a factor. Amyloidosis, a condition in which excess proteins are produced by the body, can overwork and consequently injure the kidneys. In addition, most types of cancer originating in the urinary system can also lead to kidney damage.

In pregnant women, protein in the urine can be an indicator of preeclampsia. This condition can cause blood pressure to rise to a level that endangers both mother and baby. Maternal stroke and seizure activity are possible as preeclampsia progresses. Problems during labor and delivery are also likely.

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Discuss this Article

StarJo
Post 4

I had protein in my urine during pregnancy, and because I wasn't far enough along for the baby to be delivered yet, I had to make some changes. My doctor told me to eat more protein to replace what was being lost, and he also said I needed to drink plenty of water.

I hadn't been urinating much at all, so that's what the water was probably for. He told me to lie on my left side so that the baby wouldn't be pressing on big blood vessels, too.

All of these things helped, and I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. My preeclampsia was mild, and in some severe cases, more urgent action has to be taken.

Kristee
Post 3

My sister has had kidney stones before, and each time, she had both blood and protein in her urine. She also had severe pain in her side and lower back.

She had to have the stones broken up with a laser, and then she had to wear a catheter to pass them. She told me that it hurt worse than giving birth.

I believe that her stones were caused by all the caffeinated sodas she drinks. She rarely drinks pure water, and if she did, she could probably have prevented the stones in the first place. I make it a point to drink mostly water throughout the day, because I never want to experience this.

seag47
Post 2

@cloudel – I have polycystic kidney disease, and I've never been advised to lessen my degree of exercise. In fact, I didn't know until I read it here that exercise would release protein.

I get my urine checked every six months by my doctor. Protein is one of the substances he looks for, but so far, he hasn't found excess protein. If he did, this would be a bad sign.

I do have multiple cysts on my kidneys that may one day choke out my kidney function. If protein were to show up in my urine, this could indicate that my kidneys are no longer filtering properly. It could also mean that I need dialysis.

I hope that day never comes. I have had friends who had to go to dialysis three times a week, and I do not want that to happen to me.

cloudel
Post 1

I had no idea that exercise could cause excess protein in your urine. Does this mean that people with kidney conditions should avoid intense exercise?

I doubt that any doctor would advise against light or moderate exercise. However, I could understand how they might tell someone with impaired kidneys not to overdo it.

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