Urine tests are a routine part of prenatal care to help give providers a better sense of what's happening in your body. Early on, they can be used to track hormone levels to confirm a pregnancy, and later on, they can be used to check for things like dehydration and preeclampsia, or a blood pressure condition that can cause complications getting blood flow to your baby.
One of the things your doctor will test you for is protein in urine during pregnancy. Like bloodwork and ultrasounds, urine tests during pregnancy can tell providers about your and the baby's health. Here's what to know if you get test results indicating protein in your urine.
If you get a test result with protein in your urine, it could mean a few things. It can even be expected, says Andrea Sleeth, APRN and Medical Advisor at Wisp. "It's normal to have a small amount of protein in your urine," she says, especially while pregnant. "Protein excretion normally increases to 150 to 250 mg daily during pregnancy, compared to less than 150 mg daily in nonpregnant individuals."
It's the more significant levels that might be hinting at something else. "Levels are considered abnormal when they exceed 300 mg daily," she explains. Dr. Amber Robins, the founder of Sanxtuary MD, outlines that proteinuria in pregnancy can signal temporary conditions such as developing preeclampsia, which needs to be monitored closely.
"Symptoms of preeclampsia can include having high blood pressure, changes in your vision, swelling and a severe headache. Close monitoring is needed at this time to keep mom and baby safe, and in many cases, preeclampsia improves after birth."
She also notes that it could be related to existing conditions like chronic kidney disease, lupus, diabetes, or high blood pressure. It could even be a urinary tract infection. Your doctor will let you know if there's cause for concern.
Dr. Robins says that whether or not you can reduce protein in your urine naturally depends on the reason for the increase. "For example, if the increased protein levels are from having high blood pressure (determined through blood pressure readings), the way to naturally improve your levels is by having well-controlled blood pressure," she says. Reducing salt intake and eating healthy foods can help get blood pressure back under control. If dehydration is the cause, then drinking more fluids can help.
There might be circumstances where protein levels in urine cannot be reduced naturally, and you'll need to consult your doctor to figure out treatment plans.
Dehydration can be an issue for women in pregnancy, especially if there's morning sickness. Vomiting, increased urination, and sweating can all deplete your body of water and electrolytes and increase protein in your urine. However, Sleeth says there's a simple fix if dehydration is the cause of protein in your urine. "Once rehydrated, your levels will return to baseline."
However, dehydration might not be the root or only problem, so consult with your doctor to have them evaluate the whole picture. If something bigger is happening to your kidneys, drinking water will only dilute your urine, not eliminate the protein.
The protein found in urine cannot directly affect the fetus, but it indicates something more significant—and sometimes more serious—is happening. Because high levels of protein in your urine can signal preeclampsia or underlying kidney disease, it's essential to get good prenatal care because both conditions can be concerning for both you and the baby.
"Some studies report severe proteinuria is associated with earlier gestational age at preeclampsia onset, earlier gestational age at delivery and a higher incidence of fetal growth restriction as compared to mild proteinuria," says Sleeth. She stresses, however, that proteinuria alone is not an independent predictor of complications, and you should talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
If the proteinuria values are high enough and the associated conditions are severe, you might experience swelling in the face, legs or abdomen. Sleeth says you might also experience headaches, blurred vision, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal discomfort or decreased urine output.
You might also have urine that is foamier than usual, be tired, urinate more, or have muscle cramping at night. Because some of these symptoms can be associated with pregnancy in general, it's best to talk to your doctor and outline your symptoms specifically. Combined with a urine sample test, they can give you a fuller picture of what's going on in your body and how best to treat it.
Kidney disease can be a serious condition that could put you and your baby at risk if left untreated. Sleeth suggests working out a family planning plan with your doctor to ensure your kidney disease is well controlled, noting that the obstetrician will likely coordinate with a perinatology doctor to keep an extra eye on you and the baby.
It depends on the whole picture, says Dr. Robins. "Having a disorder like preeclampsia, which may include increased protein levels in your urine, can be life-threatening for both mom and baby." If so, your provider will monitor you closely throughout your pregnancy.
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