Every pregnancy is different. Every expectant mother will have a unique experience throughout her pregnancy. Even within the same family, each experience can be drastically different.
This means you can develop symptoms you may not know anything about. You may have thought you knew everything from your first pregnancy, but each baby has a different experience in the womb.
When you’re pregnant, you’re required to take routine tests to ensure everything is developing normally and all is going according to schedule. Sometimes results can surprise you and cause concern – especially if you’re not too familiar with the diagnosis.
Let’s discuss one of these symptoms that can appear in a routine pregnancy test – and that’s excessive levels of protein in urine.
Why Does the Doctor Check for Protein?
If you’ve taken a home pregnancy test, you might be heading off to the doctors to have this confirmed. So why does a routine pregnancy test at the doctors check for protein in your urine?
Finding an excessive amount of protein in your urine can be a sign that you’ve got a urinary tract infection. A urinary tract infection is commonly caused by bacteria found on your skin or vagina traveling up your urethra and making its way into your bladder1.
Another cause of excessive protein being present in your urine is kidney damage.
However, when it comes to pregnancy, there’s a more important reason that doctors test for protein. If you’re quite far through your pregnancy, too much protein in your urine can be a sign of preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy condition that affects the health of your vital organs. It is closely associated with high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high and your urine test is positive for protein, you may have preeclampsia2.
However, if your doctor finds protein in your urine and your blood pressure is normal, they may want to test your urine further for other signs of a urinary tract infection. You’ll only have preeclampsia if your blood pressure is also high.
Is it Normal for a Pregnancy Test to Show Protein?
So, if your urine test shows signs of excessive protein, does this have to indicate a medical condition, or can it be normal?
While the most common causes of protein in urine during pregnancy are preeclampsia or a urinary tract infection, there are a number of other reasons why your test may come back this way.
Let’s take a look at some other causes:
Pregnancy can bring on many different emotions, causes by drastic changes in hormone levels and physical changes your body goes through.
It’s normal to experience higher levels of emotional stress when you’re pregnant, especially if you’re experiencing motherhood for the first time.
High levels of protein in your urine can result from emotional stress3.
The body can produce more protein in your urine if you’ve been exposed to higher temperatures.
This may be as a result of a hot bath or shower, or an unusually warm summer.
Many expectant mothers continue their regular exercise regime throughout their pregnancy.
Exercising while pregnant is a great way to promote endorphins. However, it’s recommended that you don’t do too much activity, because the risks outweigh the positives at this critical time in your time.
If you do, this can be another reason why you may find excessive protein in your urine4.
What it Means to Have Protein in Your Urine
We’ve looked at possible causes of excessive protein in urine during pregnancy.
While it could certainly be nothing too alarming at times, it could also indicate that there’s something slightly more serious going on.
Eclampsia is another condition that could be present. Eclampsia is when you experience seizures in association with preeclampsia, either before, during or after labor.
HELLP syndrome is another medical condition you may have as a result of excessive protein in your urine. HELLP syndrome is a variant of preeclampsia, but a little more serious. It has similar symptoms to preeclampsia like abdominal pain, vomiting, headaches and blurred vision5.
HELLP syndrome can result in complications during pregnancy, including kidney and liver damage. It can also potentially lead to placenta abruption.
While you may have already experienced a urinary tract infection in your lifetime, it can be more serious when you’re pregnant. This is because it can affect the baby, potentially leading to premature delivery or low birth weight.
While not all symptoms of excessive urine protein during pregnancy are serious, it’s good to be cautious and take further tests if you’re concerned. As they say, better safe than sorry!
Protein In Urine During Pregnancy: What’s Normal, And What’s Excessive?
So what is considered to be a healthy level of protein in urine during pregnancy, and what is otherwise excessive?
When you visit your doctor and get a urine test done, they may detect existing protein in your urine. The initial test will not be able to identify what exact level (or amount) there is, which means your urine will need to be taken away for further testing.
Your doctor will do this by ordering a repeat test of the same urine and comparing the results. If the repeat test you take also detects protein, your doctor may ask that you collect a 24-hour urine sample, which will allow them to determine the type of protein that’s present.
Note from Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN: “In pregnancy, less than 300 mg of protein in your urine in a 24-hour period of time is considered to be a healthy amount.
If your doctor has detected more than 300 mg of protein in your urine over a 24-hour period, then you may be referred to a specialist for further testing6.”
If you’re in the earlier stages of your pregnancy and have excessive levels of protein in your urine, it may be a urinary tract infection. To avoid damage to the liver and kidneys, you will be given the appropriate treatment by your doctor.
If you’re in the later stages of your pregnancy, this could indicate preeclampsia or eclampsia.
What Symptoms Indicate That There’s Something Wrong?
We’ve discussed what to expect as a result of testing for excessive protein in urine during pregnancy if the test results are positive.
Now, let’s talk about the signs you can look out for at home, and when to consult your healthcare professional:
The appearance of your urine is a good indicator of excessive protein. If your pee is frothy, foamy or bubbly when you go to the toilet, there may be too much protein.
Swelling is normal during pregnancy. Many women suffer from excessive fluid in pregnancy, which is also called edema.
However, swelling in pregnancy can also be a sign of too much protein. If you’re experiencing swelling in your hands, feet, abdomen or face, it could be because of your urine protein levels7.
Note from Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN: “This is because you need protein in order to keep the fluid in your blood vessels. Without protein, the fluid leaks out, causing swelling.”
So, What Should I Do Now?
If you’re experiencing either of these symptoms, we recommend consulting your healthcare professional.
Foamy, frothy urine sounds harmless, but it may be a sign that you already have kidney damage.
The earlier on you treat issues as serious as this (assuming they’re present, of course) – the higher chances you have of recovery. Talk to your doctor about this if you’re unsure.
How to Treat Excessive Protein Levels
Let’s take a look at how to reduce your urine protein levels, whether it’s due to a serious health condition or emotional stress.
Reduce Blood Pressure
Reducing your blood pressure is effective at minimizing protein levels in your urine.
You may do this by reducing the salt in your diet and cutting down on your cholesterol intake. You may also ask your doctor about a blood pressure medication, as long as it’s safe to take during pregnancy.
Emotional stress during pregnancy is a common cause you’ll want to work on minimizing.
Find the cause of your emotional stress and try to deal with it to minimize the effect it has on you.
The more you know about the cause of the excessive protein, the better you can treat it.
Ask your doctor for further, ongoing tests throughout your pregnancy. These will help you monitor the protein levels.
Additionally, you can get blood tests, which may help to diagnose the reason for excessive protein levels comprehensively.
Adjust your Lifestyle
Just like with your stress levels, you can take a look at your lifestyle and see if there’s anything you can change to help.
If you’re somebody who likes to exercise a lot, try reducing this just while you’re pregnant to see if you can’t get those protein levels down – it’s not like you should be overly exerting yourself with physical activity when pregnant, anyways.
How to Avoid Excessive Protein Levels For The Future
We’ve looked at how to treat excessive protein levels in pregnancy. But how do you avoid these levels altogether? Let’s take a look.
Ironically, increasing the protein levels you consume in your diet can help keep the protein levels down in your urine.
This is because if your body does not get enough protein during pregnancy, it will start to break down the existing protein you have stored. This will this result in excessive levels apparent in your urine.
Staying Hydrated and Awake
Dehydration and fatigue are two ways to cause your body to rely on stored levels of protein, breaking them down in the process.
If you’re hydrating yourself and ensuring that you’re getting enough sleep, your body is able to function normally and absorb the required levels of protein from your diet.
Dehydration during pregnancy is definitely not something you’ll want to mess with, anyways.
Regular Doctor Visits
Sometimes, one of the best ways to prevent a medical condition, especially during pregnancy, is by getting regular check-ups at the doctor’s office.
The more you know about the risks involved when pregnant and possible symptoms you could develop, the better equipped you are to try and prevent these conditions from occurring in the first place.
If there’s anything that you’re worried about, always consult your doctor – they can assist by providing the necessary check-ups and tests to keep you and baby healthy.
How to Check for Protein Levels Yourself
If you’ve had an initial urine test to check for excessive protein, your doctor may want you to continue monitoring your levels at home.
This is typically called a 24-hour test where you’re required to collect urine samples over a 24-hour period. These will then be given to your doctor the next day.
However, if you don’t want to wait this long and prefer to do the testing yourself, there are other ways to do so. There are simple home test kits available either online or from pharmacies that can test for excessive levels of protein in your urine.
These home test kits will contain urine testing strips, which you dip into a sample of your urine. By following the instructions on your home test kit, you will be able to see the results of the test on the strip itself.
The testing strip will turn the urine a specific color based on the level of protein found. To determine whether this level is excessive or not, simply match the color of the strip against the color block located on the home test container.
Wrapping It Up
There are many different reasons why you may find excessive levels of protein in your urine.
In pregnancy, your health and that of your baby comes first. This means that it’s wise to take every precaution and do whatever you can to ensure both you and your baby’s health is at good standing throughout each trimester.
There are a variety of different routine tests that you’re required to take throughout your pregnancy. Additionally, there are check-ups that can test for other health conditions sometimes found in pregnant women.
While excessive levels of protein in your urine during pregnancy might just mean that you’re exercising too much or under a lot of stress, it can also mean that there’s a more serious problem or medical condition going on.
It’s best not to leave these types of things to chance. If you have any concerns about the appearance of your urine or the results of an initial test, follow up with your doctor to discuss what can be done.
Correct diagnosis, seeking out the proper treatment and taking precautions are all great ways to ensure that protein levels in your urine during pregnancy stay normal.
- What If I Get a UTI While I’m Pregnant? https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/pregnancy-urinary-tract-infection. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- Preeclampsia and Eclampsia. https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/preeclampsia-eclampsia#1. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- Protein in urine. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/protein-in-urine/basics/definition/sym-20050656. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- Exercise-induced proteinuria? https://www.mdedge.com/familymedicine/article/64604/nephrology/exercise-induced-proteinuria. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- What is HELLP Syndrome? https://www.preeclampsia.org/health-information/hellp-syndrome. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- 24-hour Urine for Protein and Creatinine. https://www.glowm.com/lab_text/item/1. Accessed June 26, 2019.
- Proteinuria and Microalbuminuria. https://www.healthcommunities.com/proteinuria-and-microalbuminuria/overview-of-proteinuria.shtml. Accessed June 26, 2019.