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Protein in urine during pregnancy

Updated on October 20, 2013

The presence of small quantities of protein in urine during pregnancy is considered as normal. It is probably an indication that the kidneys are working overtime to meet the additional demands of the pregnant body.

Protein in urine during pregnancy can signify many different things. It is routinely found through the usual urine tests that are carried out during antenatal examinations. Low amounts of protein is normal and quite common during pregnancy.

The protein levels in urine are recorded in the antenatal notes by doctors. The lowest value of protein in urine during pregnancy is indicated by trace levels. Higher amounts of protein in urine are shown via a single plus (+) sign or several pluses (+++) if the levels are extremely high.

There are many causes of protein in urine during pregnancy; some of them are mild while others can be serious. Whatever be the cause, pregnant women need to consult a doctor for correct diagnosis and prompt medical treatment, if needed.

Causes of protein in urine during pregnancy

Some of the causes of protein in urine during pregnancy along with its associated symptoms are discussed below:

Kidney and Urinary tract infections

  • One of the most common causes of proteinuria or protein in urine are UTIs or urinary tract infections. Bacterial infections of the bladder and other components of the urinary system are more common than infection by other types of pathogens. A UTI can elicit many signs and symptoms such as burning sensations during urination, smelly urine, increased desire to pass out urine on a frequent basis and discomfort or pain while urinating. Untreated cases of UTIs can eventually lead to kidney infection which is a far more serious complication. It can be identified by occurrence of symptoms such as back pain, chills, vomiting, fever and nausea. Urinary tract infections generally do not cause any pregnancy anomalies. However, kidney infections can result in premature labor and/or decreased birth weight.

Preeclampsia

  • It is a severe condition that affects pregnant women and is characterized by protein in urine, hypertension and water retention. Liver dysfunction and thinning of blood may also be observed. Preeclampsia can affect both the unborn baby and the mother. The baby may experience oxygen deficiency and slow growth in the womb. Sometimes, preeclampsia can result in a severe complication called eclampsia which can lead to fits or convulsions.

  • The condition typically occurs during the 2nd half of pregnancy, though it can also arise a few days after childbirth. The rate of incidence is around 10 percent which is quite high. It is more likely to affect women during their first pregnancies. Women who have suffered from preeclampsia may sometimes experience recurrences during subsequent pregnancies, while women who remain unaffected during previous pregnancies rarely develop it during future ones.

  • Symptoms: Preeclampsia may elicit the below listed symptoms during mid-pregnancy. The signs can have a rapid onset.

    • Sudden onset of swelling that affects the face, hands or feet.

    • Vision disturbances like flashing or blurring

    • Heartburn that does not alleviate with use of antacids

    • Elevated pain under the ribs

    • Headaches along with vomiting. The headache does not resolve even after intake of paracetamol.

    • Malaise or a general feeling of being unwell

  • Causes: The exact cause of preeclampsia is not known. But a family history of the condition increases the risk to its development, which points to genetic links and the involvement of the placenta. At the time of pregnancy, large quantities of blood are required by the placenta for the baby’s growth. There is insufficient blood supply to the placenta in women with preeclampsia, which in turn causes blood vessel damage and eventually hypertension. There are disturbances in the kidney function as well, leading to protein in urine during pregnancy.

Other causes

  • There are several other causes of protein in urine during pregnancy. Some of the temporary conditions that can cause proteinuria during pregnancy include exposure to heat or cold, elevated emotional stress and vigorous exercising.

  • Dehydration and side-effects of certain medications can also cause protein in urine.

  • The presence of varied diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney failure, high blood pressure, heart disease, Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, kidney disease, lupus, sickle cell anemia and rheumatoid arthritis are other known causes.

Treatment of protein in urine during pregnancy

All cases of protein in urine during pregnancy have to be checked by a doctor. The physician will determine the underlying cause and then offer relevant treatment.

  • UTIs can be treated with the correct antibiotics.

  • Preeclampsia is a progressive and serious condition. Hence, it may require hospitalization. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, doctors may choose to go for early delivery so as to protect both the baby and the mother.

  • However, if early delivery is not possible, then doctors may prescribe different medications as well as varied lifestyle changes such as lowered salt intake, sufficient rest and intake of lots of water and other fluids, to control the symptoms.

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