Understanding the importance of urine testing & kidney imaging is crucial in grasping how your kidneys are functioning, in addition to the knowing about the routine GFR Kidney blood test and other blood tests related to the kidneys. The other blood tests are varied and include kidney specific tests and tests for disorders that also affect the kidneys.
Understanding The Importance of Urine Testing & Kidney Imaging: The Big Picture
True understanding hinges on the Big Picture as the blood test or “GFR” is only one part of the puzzle of how your kidneys are doing.
Tests That Help Evaluate Your Kidneys Other Than Blood Test
There are 4 other tests/measurements, that in combination with your blood tests, give a more complete, ”big picture” view of the health of your kidneys and if you even have 2 kidneys as unfortunately some people are born with only one (1) kidney. Understanding the importance of urine testing & kidney imaging includes knowing what exactly these other tests are. They are chiefly:
1. Urine Test for protein, blood, crystals and other abnormalities
2. Kidney imaging (or pictures)
3. Urine volume measurement
4. Kidney Biopsy
Urine tests show what your kidneys are making or what your kidneys are giving a “free pass” to go through when they should not be giving free passes: things like protein, blood, fat (lipids), abnormal cells, and casts that aren’t supposed to be in the urine! Urine tests can be a simple initial dipstick test initially and they can more detailed specific tests like urine microscopy and quantitative tests that tell how much protein is present in the urine. Some particular results may prompt your kidney doctor (nephrologist) to do an even more detailed, special kidney test listed above: a kidney biopsy.
Protein in the Urine
Protein in the urine is called proteinuria. Proteinuria is one of the chief reasons to prioritize understanding the importance of urine testing & kidney imaging. Large amounts of protein in your urine can cause your urine to look soapy, cause it to have lots of bubbles or cause your urine to look foamy like the top of a glass of beer. However, in many patients, there is no visible sign of protein in the urine and so a special urine test for protein has to be done.
Sometimes, the simple ”dipstick” urine is not enough as it can miss some types of protein in the urine if the particular protein is not albumin but another type of protein, for example Bence Jones proteinuria.
If large amounts of blood and/or protein or fat are found in your urine, the most common cause is sick kidneys (glomerular disorders) and your kidney specialist or nephrologist may need to do another very special test called a kidney biopsy.
Although sick kidneys are the main cause of protein in the urine, there is another potential cause: protein overproduction. Overproduction of abnormal proteins in your body can also cause spillage of protein into the urine. This overproduction can be due to a hematologic cancer, hematologic disorders or some inflammatory disorders. However, regardless of the source, the presence of the proteins can jeopardize the kidneys.
Blood in the Urine
Blood in the urine can look and sound scary. Blood in the urine is called Hematuria and is another reason understanding the importance of urine testing & kidney imaging is crucial. Regarding blood in the urine, sick kidneys can be the culprit but kidney stones, kidney tumors, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and other abnormalities in the urinary tract can also cause blood and other cells to get into the urine.
It is important to remember that blood in the urine can be obvious to the naked eye: called gross hematuria but it can also be invisible to the naked eye: called microscopic hematuria. Microscopic hematuria can only be detected when your urine is sent for testing by a special method and by looking at the urine under a microscope: a special process called urine microscopy.
Your nephrologist can help tell the difference of what causes the blood in your urine by special tests and by looking at your urine under the microscope! When blood comes from sick kidneys, the red blood cells look funny or dysmorphic and some even look like Mickey mouse: seriously they have little Mickey Mouse ears!
Remember that your kidneys are rock stars so they are awesome at compensating to make your blood look good even when they themselves are sick/not well or hurting a bit. Therefore you have to understand that it is not only about the GFR blood test result, its about what the pee/urine looks like to the lab chemically and under the microscope PLUS what the kidneys look like structurally on imaging.
Kidney Imaging or Special kidney pictures taken by your health team can help determine of there are any abnormalities that your urine and blood cannot show.
Examples of abnormalities that can show on imaging include:
- Kidney cysts
- Kidney stones
- Kidney Swelling of the Kidneys: a condition called hydronephrosis
- calcium deposits in the kidneys
- Kidney tumors
- Bladder Tumors
- An enlarged prostate that can block urine flow
- Kidney blood circulation problems like renal artery stenosis and renal vein thrombosis
- Enlarged kidneys
- Small kidneys
- Absent kidney
- Abnormal kidneys for example horseshoe kidney
These imaging tests can be:
- Kidney and bladder ultrasounds
- CT (or CAT) scans
- Pyelogram etc!
All of the above factors that cannot be seen be seen by the naked eye increases our need of understanding the importance of urine testing & kidney Imaging. Following your doctors’ instructions to have your Urine tested and kidney pictures taken is therefore of utmost importance! Talk to your doctor for more information.
DISCLAIMER: Please remember that this page is not medical advice. There are multiple factors unique to your particular case and days, weeks, months or years of results, treatment and perspective that only your doctor and health team have access to regarding your case.
The content on this webpage and this website is for information to help you in comprehending a concept and help start the conversation about kidney disease in a way that increases your awareness and helps empower you to make healthy choices. The explanation on this webpage is done in real-life everyday terms without medical jargon as best as possible. The information on this page does not replace your doctor’s expertise nor opinion and you.