Protein plays a lot of important roles in maintaining health. But when protein is present in your urine — a medical finding called proteinuria — it can be a sign of an underlying medical problem.
Plenty of people have never heard of proteinuria, but it’s actually fairly common. In fact, research shows it affects up to a third of the world’s population and about 7% of Americans.
The team at Houston Kidney Specialists Center, with four locations in Cypress and Houston, Texas, is skilled at identifying the causes of proteinuria and tailoring treatment plans to improve kidney health and prevent organ damage. Lots of issues can contribute to proteinuria, including dehydration.
The basics of proteinuria
Protein is important for building and maintaining muscle and bone, repairing damaged tissue, and other important functions. And, normally, protein circulates in your blood, where it can be quickly transported wherever it’s needed. When protein is in your urine, however, it means your body is shedding protein, an abnormal finding that may be linked with kidney damage.
Typically, networks of tiny blood vessels (called glomeruli) inside your kidneys filter out excess water and waste products from your blood, excreting these materials in your urine. Most proteins are too large to pass through the glomeruli.
If tinier proteins do penetrate the glomeruli network, other structures called tubules capture the proteins and return them to your blood. When proteins are found in your urine, it means this filtration process isn’t working correctly.
Causes of proteinuria
Protein in your urine can be a sign of underlying kidney damage that interferes with the way the glomeruli and tubules work. But more commonly, it’s associated with other issues, such as:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Excessive stress
- Intense exercise
- Kidney stones
- Underlying medical issues, such as lupus or heart disease
Some of these issues can cause severe or chronic proteinuria, while others — such as dehydration — can cause a temporary or transient condition that usually can be corrected with lifestyle changes.
Dehydration and proteinuria
About 60% of your body is water, so it makes sense that when you’re dehydrated, it’s going to take a big toll on your organs — kidneys included. When you’re properly hydrated, your blood volume is normalized, and that makes it easier for your kidneys to filter out wastes and other materials. Fluids also help flush out your kidneys, preventing waste buildup.
On the other hand, dehydration causes higher concentrations of wastes and minerals in your body and bloodstream, “clogging” the filtration system and damaging the glomeruli and tubules that normally prevent protein from entering your urine. When the filtration system is stressed or damaged by a lack of fluids, protein has a greater chance of “sneaking” through the system and into your urine.
Having a higher concentration of minerals also increases the risks of developing other kidney problems, including painful kidney stones. It can also make your urine appear darker, one of the key indicators of possible dehydration.
The good news is proteinuria that’s caused by dehydration is typically mild and can usually be treated simply by drinking more water and being more mindful of your fluid intake throughout the day, especially on days when it’s hot or when you’re engaging in excessive physical activity.
Keep your kidneys healthy
Many people think all you need to do to keep your kidneys healthy is drink plenty of water. Certainly, staying hydrated is important — not just for your kidneys, but for your overall health, too.
But, maintaining kidney health is a lot more complicated than just increasing your water intake. And in fact, if your kidney function is compromised — even a little bit — drinking too much water could actually be harmful.
If a urine test reveals protein in your urine, scheduling an evaluation is an important first step for determining what’s causing it, so you can get the correct treatment. To learn more, call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.