Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

Protein in urine is also referred to as proteinuria. Its occurrence during pregnancy is deemed as normal. More often than not, protein in urine during pregnancy only signifies that the kidneys are working a lot harder to meet the additional bodily needs that arise during pregnancy.

Protein in urine is usually detected via routine urine tests conducted during antenatal care procedures. Doctors do not pay undue attention to low levels of protein in urine during pregnancy as they are considered normal. Protein levels urine are noted by physicians in the antenatal reports; miniscule amounts are reported as trace levels, while higher levels are marked with a plus (+) symbol. Very high levels of protein in urine during pregnancy are indicated with many plus signs, i.e. +++.

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Protein in urine during pregnancy can be caused due to simple reasons like inadequate intake of water, or it can have some serious underlying causes. Hence, all affected women should visit their health care provider during all instances of proteinuria.

Causes of protein in urine during pregnancy

The two main causes of protein in urine during pregnancy are urinary tract infections or UTIs, and preeclampsia.

1. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is one of the most serious and common disorders that can affect pregnant women. It generally develops after the mid-pregnancy stage and can result in varied adverse effects in both the fetus and the mother. Preeclampsia can also arise a few days after delivery. The mother may experience blood thinning or coagulopathy, release of protein into the urine, liver abnormalities, and hypertension or high blood pressure. The baby’s development can be seriously hampered due to oxygen deficiency. It may also experience slow growth and a low birth weight. A serious complication of preeclampsia is eclampsia which is characterized by fits or seizures. Other deadly, but rare complications include pulmonary oedema, stroke or cerebral hemorrhage, and kidney failure.

Symptoms of preeclampsia: The early stages of preeclampsia may not cause any symptoms. However, in the advanced stages the following signs and symptoms may arise:

  • Protein in urine and high blood pressure
  • It is normal for pregnant women to experience some swelling during pregnancy. However, preeclampsia can cause extensive swelling of the face, feet, and hands
  • Severe headaches that cannot be relieved by over the counter medications
  • Blurred vision and other anomalies of sight like flashing lights
  • Malaise or generalized illness
  • Acute pain just under the ribs, or in upper abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn that does not resolve with antacids

Causes of preeclampsia: Researchers are still trying to find out the exact cause of preeclampsia. However, the disease tends to be prevalent in relatives which indicates the presence of genetic causes. It also points to the role of the placenta.The placenta needs additional blood supply in order to sustain the growth of the fetus. Women with preeclampsia cannot provide adequate blood supply to the placenta. This can damage the blood vessels eventually leading to hypertension, and later kidney dysfunction which results in protein in urine during pregnancy.

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Around ten percent of pregnant women get affected by preeclampsia. It may be noted that women undergoing their first pregnancy are at increased risk to preeclampsia. It may or may not recur during the future pregnancies. Women who developed preeclampsia during precious pregnancies are more vulnerable to recurrence than women who have never experienced it. Occurrence of preeclampsia in later pregnancies without it affecting women during the first pregnancy is very rare.

Treatment of preeclampsia:In most cases, affected women may need to be hospitalized. If delivery is possible, then doctors will go for it to save both the baby and the mother; and if not,then the different symptoms are treated with varied medications. Lifestyle changes like intake of lots of water and fluids, low salt in meals, and adequate rest is also advised.

2. Urinary Tract Infections

UTIs are another primary cause of protein in urine during pregnancy. Most cases result from bacterial infections, although other pathogens can also be involved.

UTIs can be identified by a variety of symptoms such as pain and discomfort during urination, increased urge to urinate frequently, elimination of foul-smelling urine, burning sensations when passing urine, etc. UTIs generally do not result in any pregnancy complications.

If UTIs are left untreated, then the germs will migrate to the kidneys and result in kidney infection. It is a severe condition characterized by abnormal symptoms like fever, vomiting, chills, nausea, and pain in the back. In addition to causing protein in urine during pregnancy, kidney infections can also lead to low birth weight and early labor. UTIs as well as kidney infections are mostly treated with proper antibiotics and other medications.

3. Other causes

Protein in urine during pregnancy can also be caused by many other causes like emotional stress, dehydration, strenuous physical activities or exercising, prolonged contact with heat or cold, or the presence of serious underlying conditions like diabetes, sickle cell anemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, etc.

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