Urate crystals are sharp crystalline structures that build up as a result of too much uric acid in the body, a condition called hyperuricemia. Hyperuricemia is a hallmark of conditions like gout, where the kidneys may show an inability to adequately dispose of uric acid. This can lead to deposits or urate crystals in the joints, which can in turn cause severe joint pain and inflammation.
Another way in which many people first learn about urate crystals is when they are first time parents. Newborns and young infants may have wet diapers that appear either orange or pink-tinged. This can be a frightening thing for new parents, because it looks very much as though the child may be bleeding or have blood in his or her urine.
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Actually, urate crystals, which may most often occur in the first few weeks of life, tend to be relatively common. They usually, especially if you only notice them once or twice, are nothing more than the infant passing highly concentrated urine. Urate crystals don’t hurt babies, and you may even find some crystals in a diaper, or what looks like powder.
However, this may be a sign that some babies, especially older ones, are dehydrated. If the baby isn’t having at least six wet diapers a day, this suggests fluid intake may be too low. When children are not getting adequate fluid they may “hold” their urine and produce darker urine with a higher level of uric acid. If you suspect a child is dehydrated, you should seek medical attention. Dehydration in a newborn or young child can be very serious if left untreated.
Many times, dehydration in newborns may be the result of not getting enough breastmilk or formula, or older babies may develop these crystals if they sleep through the night and aren’t woken up for a feeding. If crystals persist for more than a couple of diapers, and if the baby is not passing adequate urine, you should consider consulting a lactation consultant if you are breastfeeding, and discuss the issue with your child’s doctor.
In rare instances, urate crystals in a diaper may suggest some forms of chronic kidney dysfunction, especially if they persist. The standard rule, especially for new parents, is to check with the doctor. Bring along a diaper, which shows the crystals so that doctors can rule out any other forms of crystallization or have the diaper tested to see if they suspect other problems. In most cases though, urate crystals in newborns are a normal occurrence and even occur in newborns who get adequate fluid.