Frothy Urine
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My urine has recently become very ‘frothy’. I am a bit alarmed by this but am too busy to see my doctor. Should I be worried by this?”

It sounds as though you may have some protein in your urine. Protein can get into the urine anywhere along the ‘pipes’ from the kidneys to the bladder. However, to get enough protein in the urine for it to be frothy is often a sign that it is coming from the kidneys. Frothy urine may be a sign that your kidneys are not working as well as they should be.

Normally the kidneys filter the blood to remove many of the waste products. The cells lining the tubes within the kidney make up the filter – rather like a very fine sieve. Usually, this filter only allows very small molecules to pass through, such as urea, the substance that gives urine its colour. The kidney as able to this because all of the waste products are very small and can pass through the filter into the urine. Most of the things we want to keep inside the blood are larger and therefore cannot be filtered into the urine. However, if there is any damage to the kidney – in particular to the cells making up the filter, then some of these larger molecules can escape. One of these larger molecules is called protein. Lots of protein in the urine (known as ‘proteinuria’) can cause it to be frothy.  

There are lots of different causes for having protein in the urine. Some of these run in families, and some are more innocent than others. Occasionally some medications may cause this. It is best for you to pay a swift visit to your GP where they will ask you about any other symptom you may have, as well as examining you. They are likely to dip your urine, so be ready to provide a sample when you get there. If the urine is found to have protein in it, they will also probably send you for some blood tests, as well as possibly asking you to collect all of your urine for 24 hours in a specially provided bottle to accurately measure how much protein may be being lost in the urine. Because there are several different causes for this condition, it may be that your GP will ask a kidney specialist to see you to decide the best course of action.

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