What Causes Protein in Urine During Pregnancy? And What It Means (2022)

While it is natural to have some protein in your urine—even during pregnancy— there are times when elevated levels of protein in your urine can signal an issue. For instance, having high levels of protein in your urine later in pregnancy could be a sign of preeclampsia—a serious blood pressure condition affecting pregnant people.

Below our experts explain what it means when you have protein in your urine during pregnancy, when protein in urine may be a problem, and how conditions related to protein in urine during pregnancy are treated.

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What Does Protein in Urine Mean?

In a non-pregnant individual, a normal amount of protein in urine would be about 150mg/day. But when you are pregnant, that number can increase to up to 300mg/day.

“Our bodies go through various changes during pregnancy,” says Jee Shim, MD, an OB/GYN at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital in New York. “One of the normal/expected changes is increased levels of protein in the urine.”

Whether or not your healthcare provider would be concerned with the amount of protein during pregnancy would depend on the amount, says Dr. Shim.

“If the levels are higher than 300mg/day, it will need further evaluation by your OB/GYN doctor,” she explains. “Less than 300 mg/day is considered normal.”

It also depends on where you are in your pregnancy. Elevated levels of protein in urine in early pregnancy may not be as much of a concern as higher levels later on in pregnancy.

“For the most part, having a small amount of protein in early pregnancy (before 20 weeks of pregnancy) is considered either normal or may be indicative of a minor infection in your urine,” says Amy Wetter, MD, OB/GYN at Northside Women’s Specialists, part of Pediatrix Medical Group.

Further investigation of the cause might be indicated in this case, says Dr. Wetter, but it’s not typically something that worries her. On the other hand, elevated protein in the urine after 20 weeks is usually more concerning.

“If the patient is over 20 weeks, my suspicion for preeclampsia is raised and the patient will need to have bloodwork to evaluate her platelets, kidney function, and liver function, and she will also need to collect her urine for 24 hours to see how much is being excreted during that time,” says Dr. Wetter.

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Causes of Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

Having protein in your urine during pregnancy has several different causes depending on whether you're in early pregnancy or later on in pregnancy (greater than 20 weeks pregnant).For instance, protein in during early pregnancy could be the result of an underlying condition like diabetes, lupus, or kidney disease. Meanwhile, protein in your urine later in pregnancy could be a symptom of preeclampsia and should be addressed by a healthcare provider right away. Read on to learn more about protein in urine during pregnancy and what you should do.

Early Pregnancy

If you have elevated levels of protein in your urine in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, one possible cause is kidney damage. “Protein levels in urine can increase if the kidneys are not working as they should be, so proteinuria may be a marker for renal disease,” explains Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Certain conditions may cause your kidneys to be strained. “Sometimes women have unknown underlying health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, lupus,or kidney disease, which can cause significant protein in the urine,” says Dr. Wetter.

Elevated protein in urine during early pregnancy can have less worrisome causes, too. A mild urinary tract infection or dehydration can cause elevated protein in your urine as well, says Dr. Wetter.

After 20 Weeks

After the midpoint in your pregnancy, the main concern with elevated protein in your urine is that it may indicate preeclampsia, a serious condition in pregnancy that can put both your and your baby at risk for complications.

“After 20 weeks of pregnancy, protein in the urine must be evaluated for the possibility of preeclampsia,” says Dr. Wetter. “Not everyone with proteinuria will have or even go on to develop preeclampsia, but this condition is the most important to diagnose as it can lead to very serious consequences for both mom and baby.”

It’s important to understand that elevated protein in the urine after 20 weeks isn’t evidence alone that you have preeclampsia. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), elevated blood pressure—readings above 140/90 mm Hg at least twice—must be present for you to be diagnosed with preeclampsia.

Coupled with high blood pressure, having either elevated levels of protein in your urine or severe preeclampsia symptoms is what might constitute a diagnosis.

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Risks of Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

The risks of protein in urine during pregnancy depend on what is causing the elevated levels. Some of the causes are less serious than others, or easier to treat and resolve.

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Most of the causes of protein in urine in early pregnancy do not have serious risks. “If protein is found in your urine before 20 weeks, it is less likely to be a concerning symptom,” says Maggie Bolton, CNM, ARNP, clinical director of Quilted Health. “However, it should still be evaluated.”

Increased protein in urine after 20 weeks is where there may be serious risks to you or your baby, especially if coupled with elevated blood pressure, and symptoms like blurred vision, swelling, and shortness of breath. In this case, you may have preeclampsia, and you will need to be monitored and treated.

“Preeclampsia is a progressive disorder which can affect many body systems,” Bolton describes. “It is caused by the placenta and the pregnant person’s vascular system and in most cases, it resolves quickly after the birth. Your provider will want to monitor you very closely, and may even recommend induction depending on the severity of the condition.”

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Symptoms of Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

Unless you are dealing with a urinary tract infection, most of the time that you have protein in your urine during pregnancy, you will not have many obvious symptoms. However, if you are experiencing preeclampsia, you may have some noticeable symptoms, along with an elevated amount of protein in your urine.

Early signs of preeclampsia may include retaining more water than usual, increased blood pressure, along with protein in your urine. You may notice rapid weight gain along with swelling. Other signs of preeclampsia may progress to headaches, blurry vision, stomach pain concentrated on your right side, dark spots in your vision, and shortness of breath.

How Protein in Urine Is Detected

You will usually get a urine test at your first prenatal visit. This is usually a “dipstick,” where you pee in a cup, and your urine is analyzed by using testing strips that can detect specific indicators.

If your healthcare provider is concerned about your protein levels, or if you have other symptoms, such as symptoms of preeclampsia, a more thorough urine test may be ordered.

“If your blood pressure starts to rise or you develop concerning symptoms (right upper quadrant, severe headaches that don’t go away with medication, or changes in your vision) in later pregnancy, your provider will recommend testing your urine for protein,” says Bolton.

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The “gold standard” for testing urine in pregnancy is a “urine protein to creatinine ratio,” Bolton explains. This requires a urine sample that will get sent to the lab. Other possible tests include “albumin to creatinine ratio” and the “the 24-hour urine collection” test.

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Treating Protein in Urine During Pregnancy

Treatment for urine in pregnancy will depend on what the cause is, and where you are in your pregnancy.

In early pregnancy, protein in urine often indicated a UTI or other kidney issue. Usually, this can be treated simply.

“If I have a patient with a small amount of protein in their urine and that patient is otherwise healthy with no chronic medical problems, my first step is to reassure them, encourage them to drink plenty of water if dehydration is suspected, and then also send a urine culture to evaluate further,” says Dr. Wetter.

If you have other conditions that are causing protein in your urine, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, you will need to get a thorough history taken as well as a physical examination, says Dr. Wetter. Special attention will need to be paid to your weight, as well as your blood pressure, she says.

If you are later in your pregnancy and it’s determined that you have preeclampsia, you will need to be treated promptly and thoroughly for this, so that your health, as well as the health of your baby, is protected.

If you are more than 37 weeks pregnant and are diagnosed with preeclampsia, induction and delivery of the baby will likely be recommended. If you are less than 37 weeks, you will probably be put on bed rest, and you may be given medication like magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. The health of you and your baby will be closely monitored until you give birth.

Preventing Protein in Urine in Pregnancy

Most cases of protein in urine during pregnancy can’t be prevented. Conditions such as preeclampsia are often inherited disorders. Underlying conditions that may cause protein in urine to increase, such as diabetes, lupus, and hypertension, may also be genetic or have complex medical and autoimmune causes.

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There is some evidence that you can lower your risk of developing preeclampsia by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, exercising regularly, decreasing salt and caffeine intake, and making sure to get enough sleep.

There are some indications that taking a baby aspirin daily can decrease your risk of developing preeclampsia by 15%. You should talk to your healthcare provider before taking baby aspirin.

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When to Seek Medical Attention

If you suspect that something is off, it's important to talk with your healthcare provider sooner rather than later. “There are many signs and symptoms to be aware of if you have protein in your urine during pregnancy,” says Dr. Wetter. “Most of these signs and symptoms are associated with preeclampsia as this diagnosis is generally what we are most concerned about developing.”

Signs of preeclampsia to look for include elevated blood pressure detected at home or at your healthcare provider’s office, sudden weight gain, swelling in your extremities or face, nausea or vomiting, vision changes, upper right adnominal pain, and severe headaches.

“Many times, patients have related to me that they just started feeling off without a specific symptom, therefore I implore women to listen to their bodies and if they feel something is wrong, to call their healthcare provider,” Dr. Wetter advises.

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A Word From Verywell

If you get the results of a urine test and your protein levels are elevated, it’s understandable that you may feel worried. First, remember that pregnant individuals often have higher levels of protein in their urine and that usually only levels over 300mg/day are cause for concern.

If your levels are elevated after 20 weeks, the greatest concern is preeclampsia, but elevated protein levels alone do not mean you have preeclampsia. It’s important that you stay in touch with your healthcare provider, as they will want to conduct diagnostic tests to understand what is going on.

Remember that even if you develop preeclampsia, your medical team will do their due diligence to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby.

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FAQs

Why do I keep getting protein in my urine pregnancy? ›

Increased blood volume, which taxes the kidneys more than normal. So pregnancy itself is a risk factor for protein in the urine. You may also be at a higher risk if you have any chronic conditions before your pregnancy or if you have a family history of conditions that impact the liver and kidneys.

When should I worry about protein in my urine during pregnancy? ›

Urinary protein excretion is considered abnormal in pregnant women when it exceeds 300 mg/24 hours at anytime during gestation, a level that usually correlates with 1+ on urine dipstick. Proteinuria documented before pregnancy or before 20 weeks' gestation suggests preexisting renal disease.

What happens when you have protein in your urine while pregnant? ›

It probably just means that your kidneys are working harder now that you're pregnant. Protein in your urine could also mean that your body is fighting a minor infection, especially if your blood pressure is normal. Your caregiver may send your sample for analysis to check if you have a urinary tract infection (UTI).

How do you fix protein in urine? ›

Protein in Urine Treatment
  1. Changes to your diet. If high levels of protein are caused by kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, your doctor will give you specific diet changes.
  2. Weight loss. ...
  3. Blood pressure medication. ...
  4. Diabetes medication. ...
  5. Dialysis.

Will drinking water reduce protein in urine? ›

Can drinking water reduce protein in urine? No, drinking more water won't treat proteinuria. Drinking more water will make you pee more, so there may be less protein every time you pee, but it won't stop your kidneys from leaking protein.

Can sperm cause protein in urine? ›

Following sexual intercourse, semen (which contains 6.3 g/l of albumin) might be excreted in the urine. Factors such as intense physical activity, fever and dehydration can also cause proteinuria and—together with sexual intercourse—should be avoided before dipstick urine testing whenever practicable.

What home remedy reduces protein in urine? ›

Reduce proteinuria naturally with home remedies
  1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes.
  2. Lean meats are better than red meat, as the latter is harder to break down.
  3. Consume more fish.
  4. Restrict salt intake.
  5. Drink plenty of water and avoid soda.
  6. Exercise regularly.
  7. Minimize alcohol intake.
1 Apr 2016

Is protein in urine serious? ›

A small amount of protein in your urine is normal, but too much can be a sign of kidney disease.

Can stress cause high protein in urine? ›

Strenuous exercise, dehydration, diet, stress, pregnancy, and other conditions can cause a temporary rise in urine protein levels. Your provider may recommend other urinalysis tests to see whether you continue to have a high level of protein in your urine over time.

How much protein in urine is normal? ›

Normally, you should have less than 150 milligrams (about 3 percent of a teaspoon) of protein in the urine per day. Having more than 150 milligrams per day is called proteinuria. DOES PROTEINURIA CAUSE SYMPTOMS? People with a small amount of proteinuria generally have no signs or symptoms.

What does protein in urine look like? ›

Usually there are no symptoms. If the protein loss is heavy, the urine has a frothy appearance, and would most likely be associated with other symptoms e.g. oedema, where there is an excess of water in the body tissues.

Can protein in urine be temporary? ›

Transient proteinuria — Transient (intermittent) proteinuria is by far the most common form of proteinuria. Transient proteinuria usually resolves without treatment. Stresses such as fever and heavy exercise may cause transient proteinuria.

What foods to avoid if you have protein in your urine? ›

However, you should avoid foods that are high in potassium and magnesium, if you are have been diagnosed with Proteinuria. Foods that are high in potassium include most fresh fruits and vegetables. Some specific examples include: Oranges and orange juice.

What drinks cause protein in urine? ›

More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of developing high blood pressure. Drinking alcohol in these amounts is a risk factor for developing a sign of kidney disease, protein in the urine (albuminuria). The good news is that you can prevent this by not drinking too much alcohol.

What juice is good for kidneys? ›

To get the best health benefits, be sure to choose 100% organic water-based cranberry juice. So how does cranberry juice help? It can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of your kidneys, which helps prevent an infection from forming in the first place.

What fruit is good for kidneys? ›

Pineapple, cranberries, red grapes, and apples are all kidney-friendly fruits with anti-inflammatory properties.

What are the symptoms of too much protein in your blood? ›

High blood protein levels don't cause symptoms. You may learn you have high blood protein if a healthcare provider orders a comprehensive metabolic panel. The results will show your total protein levels, albumin levels and the ratio of albumin to globulins, or A/G ratio. (A normal A/G ratio is 0.8 to 2.0.)

What is the most common cause of protein in urine? ›

The two most common are diabetes and high blood pressure. Other serious conditions that can cause proteinuria include: Immune disorders such as lupus. Kidney inflammation (glomerulonephritis)

How do you treat protein in urine during pregnancy? ›

There's no real way to reduce levels of protein in urine while pregnant, says Dr. Abernathy, and the protein itself is an issue in and of itself—it's a symptom of potential problems. That is to say that it is not something that is treated directly.

How long can proteinuria last? ›

The proteinuria is not indicative of significant underlying kidney disease; it may be precipitated by high fever or heavy exercise, and it disappears upon repeat testing. Exercise-induced proteinuria usually resolves within 24 hours.

How much protein in urine is considered preeclampsia? ›

This urine will be tested to see if you are passing more than 300 mg of protein in a day. Any amount of protein in your urine over 300 mg in one day may indicate preeclampsia. However, the amount of protein doesn't define how severe the preeclampsia is or may get.

Does protein in urine during pregnancy always mean preeclampsia? ›

For instance, protein in during early pregnancy could be the result of an underlying condition like diabetes, lupus, or kidney disease. Meanwhile, protein in your urine later in pregnancy could be a symptom of preeclampsia and should be addressed by a healthcare provider right away.

How quickly can preeclampsia develop? ›

With preeclampsia, you might have high blood pressure, high levels of protein in urine that indicate kidney damage (proteinuria), or other signs of organ damage. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had previously been in the standard range.

Can you have preeclampsia with just protein in urine? ›

A diagnosis of preeclampsia happens if you have high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and at least one of the following findings: Protein in your urine (proteinuria), indicating an impaired kidney.

How can I prevent protein in my urine during pregnancy? ›

There's no real way to reduce levels of protein in urine while pregnant, says Dr. Abernathy, and the protein itself is an issue in and of itself—it's a symptom of potential problems. That is to say that it is not something that is treated directly.

What numbers are considered preeclampsia? ›

Signs of preeclampsia in a pregnant woman include: Blood pressure of 140/90. Systolic blood pressure that rises by 30 mm Hg or more even it if is less than 140. (This is the highest level of blood pressure during the heart's pumping cycle.)

What is considered mild preeclampsia? ›

You may be diagnosed with mild preeclampsia if you have high blood pressure plus high levels of protein in your urine. You are diagnosed with severe preeclampsia if you have symptoms of mild preeclampsia plus: Signs of kidney or liver damage (seen in blood work). Low platelet count. Fluid in your lungs.

What is the root cause of preeclampsia? ›

It is now evident that for most cases of preeclampsia, the root cause is the placenta. Relatively reduced placental perfusion leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, and endoplasmic reticulum stress, which converge to modify maternal physiology, with endothelium an important target.

Who is at high risk for preeclampsia? ›

Women older than 40 are at higher risk. Multiple gestation (being pregnant with more than one fetus) African American ethnicity. Also, among women who have had preeclampsia before, non-white women are more likely than white women to develop preeclampsia again in a later pregnancy.

How did your preeclampsia start? ›

It can come on after the middle of pregnancy, usually from about 20 weeks, and can also be diagnosed up to 6 weeks after a woman has given birth. The exact cause of pre-eclampsia isn't known, but it appears to happen when there's a problem with the woman's placenta.

Can a baby survive preeclampsia? ›

Preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy impact 5-8% of all births in the United States. Most women with preeclampsia will deliver healthy babies and fully recover. However, some women will experience complications, several of which may be life-threatening to mother and/or baby.

What are the early warning signs of preeclampsia? ›

Symptoms can include:
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Headache.
  • Swelling of the face, hands and feet.
  • Upper abdominal pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • HELLP syndrome (severe form of preeclampsia)
10 Jan 2021

How do you check for preeclampsia at home? ›

While you are home, your provider may ask you to:
  1. Measure your blood pressure.
  2. Check your urine for protein.
  3. Monitor how much fluid you drink.
  4. Check your weight.
  5. Monitor how often your baby moves and kicks.

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