When you find out about a health issue early on, you can often take steps to protect yourself and keep your body strong. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, one of the things to look out for is kidney disease.
Proteins, such as albumin, are usually something your kidneys keep in. Albumin’s a building block that helps your body heal. But if your kidneys aren’t working quite right, this substance starts to leak into your urine.
A microalbumin urine test checks for small amounts (hence "micro") of albumin in your urine -- at levels that would be too small to be picked up on a regular urinalysis. Its presence can be a sign of kidney disease.
Diabetes and Kidney Disease
Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure and the leading cause of microalbumin in the urine in the United States. When you have this condition, the level of sugar (or “glucose”) in your blood is too high.
Over time, that extra sugar damages the small blood vessels in your kidneys. It becomes harder for them to clean your blood. Diabetes can also harm your nerves, which may lead to kidney injury.
When Would I Get a Test?
Your doctor will suggest one when you have:
- Type 1 diabetes . You’ll get the test once a year starting 5 years from when you got the condition.
- Type 2 diabetes . You’ll get the test once a year starting as soon as you find out you have it.
- High blood pressure . Your doctor will talk to you about how often to get tested.
You may also need to get tested if you:
- Are 65 or older with risk factors for heart or kidney disease
- Belong to an ethnic group more likely to get kidney disease, including African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians
- Have any family members who have or had kidney disease
In these cases, talk to your doctor about when to start testing and how often you’ll need it.
What Happens During the Test?
To check for albumin, you need to provide a urine sample. Your doctor may ask you to do this in one of two ways: random or timed.
For a random test: You go to your doctor’s office. They’ll send you to a restroom and give you directions to pee into a cup. Your doctor will most likely ask the lab to check for creatinine as well as albumin. Creatinine is a normal waste product in your urine. When you measure both numbers, you get a clearer picture of what’s happening.
You usually get results in 24 to 72 hours, but it depends on your lab.
What Do the Results Mean?
Keep in mind that labs test things a bit differently from each other. Also, not all bodies are the same, so what’s normal for one person might not be normal for you. The numbers here are guidelines. Your doctor can help you understand what they mean.
Random urine test: You’ll probably get a number called the albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR). By measuring the albumin and the creatinine in your spot (or untimed) urine test, you can extrapolate how much albumin is excreted in your urine per day.
For this test, albumin is measured in micrograms (mcg), and creatinine is noted in milligrams (mg). (It takes 1,000 micrograms to equal a milligram).
A normal ACR is less than 30 mcg of albumin for every 1 mg of creatinine. A number higher than 30 could be a sign of kidney damage.
If there is albumin in your pee, the amount likely varies during the day. That makes it a little harder to get an accurate measure. Plus, any of these could give you a result that’s higher than normal:
- Blood in your urine
- Lots of exercise right before the test
- Other kidney diseases
- Some medicines
- Urinary tract infection
If your results show a higher-than-normal level, your doctor will probably want to repeat the test.
You’re likely to do it a couple times over the next 3 to 6 months. If two of three tests come back as high, it likely means you have early kidney disease. If the results are much higher than normal, it could be a sign of more advanced problems.
Your doctor will help you figure out what the results mean and what steps you can take next.