Proteinuria (Protein in Urine)

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on December 12, 2023
5 min read

 Proteinuria is an unusually high amount of protein in your pee (urine). The condition is often a sign of kidney disease.

Your kidneys are filters that don't usually let a lot of protein pass through. When kidney disease damages them, proteins such as albumin may leak from your blood into your pee. You can also have proteinuria when your body makes too much protein.

Kidney disease often has no early symptoms. Protein in your pee might be one of the first signs. Your doctor may spot proteinuria on a urine test during a routine physical.

Normal values with a random urine sample range from 0 to 14 mg/dL, and for a 24-hour urine collection values less than 80 mg are considered normal.

The three categories of proteinuria include:

Transient proteinuria. This type of proteinuria is the most common and is occasional. It usually doesn't require treatment to recover and can be brought on by stressors like heavy exercise and fever.

Orthostatic proteinuria. With this form of the condition, you lose protein while you're in an upright position but not while lying down. It happens in 2%-5% of children, but the cause is unknown. Orthostatic proteinuria is not harmful and usually goes away with age.

Persistent proteinuria. This type of proteinuria is the most serious and happens in people with kidney disease or conditions that affect the kidneys, like high blood pressure or diabetes. It can also occur if you have a condition that causes overproduction of protein in your body.

Most people who have proteinuria won't notice any signs, especially in early or mild cases. Over time, as it gets worse, you might have symptoms including:

  • Foamy or bubbly pee
  • Swelling (edema) in your hands, feet, belly, and face
  • Peeing more often
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps at night

Some common things can cause proteinuria. These include:

  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Intense activity
  • High stress
  • Kidney stones
  • Taking aspirin every day
  • Very low temperatures

Conditions that damage your kidneys can also make you have too much protein in your urine. The two most common conditions are diabetes and high blood pressure.

Other serious conditions that can cause proteinuria include:

  • Immune disorders such as lupus
  • Kidney inflammation (glomerulonephritis)
  • A blood cancer called multiple myeloma
  • Preeclampsia, which affects pregnant women
  • A buildup of protein in your organs (amyloidosis)
  • Poisoning
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Intravascular hemolysis, a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed
  • Kidney cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Trauma

Things that might make you more likely to have protein in your urine include:

  • Obesity
  • Age over 65
  • A family history of kidney disease
  • African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander descent
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure

A urine test called a urinalysis can tell whether you have too much protein in your pee. First, you'll pee into a cup. A lab technician will dip in a stick with chemicals on the end. If the stick changes color, it's a sign of too much protein. You might need to have this test more than once to find out how long the protein is there.

The technician will also look at the pee under a microscope. They're checking for things that shouldn't be there, which might mean kidney problems. These include red and white blood cells, crystals, and bacteria.

If your doctor suspects kidney disease, you might need to have other urine tests. Your doctor might also order:

  • Blood tests. These tests measure certain chemicals to check how well your kidneys are working.
  • Imaging tests. CT scans and ultrasounds can spot kidney stones, tumors, or other blockages.
  • A kidney biopsy. Your doctor might need to take a small sample of kidney tissue so a lab technician can look at it under a microscope.

You might not need treatment if proteinuria is mild or lasts only a short time; however, Ppoteinuria can be a sign of another illness. So treatment depends on figuring out what caused it. 

Kidney disease. Proteinuria can be an early sign of chronic kidney disease, which causes kidney function loss. It's very important to treat kidney disease before it leads to kidney failure.

Taking certain medications,being active and making changes in your diet might be a part of the treatment plan your doctor recommends. Weight loss has been linked to decreases in proteinuria. 

Dialysis may be needed.

High blood pressure or diabetes. Your doctor might prescribe medication, especially if you have diabetes and/or high blood pressure. Most people will take one of two types of blood pressure medicine:

If you have diabetes, your doctor may recommend annual blood tests to help manage your blood sugar.

Proteinuria and no other conditions. If you have proteinuria but don't have other medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor may still recommend treatment with blood pressure medication to prevent kidney damage and kidney disease.

Will drinking water reduce protein in urine?

No. Although drinking more water will make you pee more, which means each time you pee it will contain less protein, it will not stop your kidneys from leaking out protein.

If you are pregnant, you could develop high blood pressure and proteinuria at the same time, which is a condition called preeclampsia. Although preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition and can be a sign of kidney damage, it goes away a few days or weeks after your baby is delivered. Be sure to have regular prenatal visits with your doctor so they can monitor your blood pressure and check for signs of proteinuria.

Proteinuria, or high levels of protein in your pee, can be mild and have no symptoms. It can also lead to kidney damage and disease if untreated. If you have symptoms of proteinuria, like muscle cramps or frequent urination, talk to your doctor. Medication and changes in the diet and exercise routines can help with treating proteinuria.

  • What does it mean to have protein in your urine?

Some conditions cause you to have higher levels of protein in your urine that are temporary, like dehydration and exposure to cold weather.

Protein in your urine can also be a sign of kidney damage. If your kidneys are healthy, protein and other nutrients pass through and go back to your blood. When your kidneys are damaged, protein leaks into your urine.

  • When should I be worried about protein in my urine?

A small amount of protein in your pee is normal. You should talk to your doctor if your peeing is painful, frequent, or urgent or you have lightheadedness or swelling around your face, stomach, or lower body.

  • Does protein in urine mean infection?

Protein in your pee could be a sign of a kidney infection (a type of urinary tract infection).