Leukocytes, also known as white blood cells, are essential to the body’s immune system. They help fight off infections and other foreign substances that can harm the body. Normally, the urinary tract should be free of white blood cells. However, in some cases, they can appear in the urine. Leukocytes in urine, also known as leukocyturia.
A minor quantity of leukocytes is naturally present in urine due to the elimination old cells from the system. However, when there is an increased number of white blood cells in the urine, it is often a sign that the body is responding to an infection or inflammation somewhere along the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and the urethra.
In some cases, large leukocytes in urine may also indicate a more serious condition, such as kidney disease or cancer. This article discusses what leukocytes in urine mean and 12 common causes with treatment.
Symptoms of Leukocytes in Urine
The presence of leukocytes in urine may not always cause noticeable symptoms. However, if the underlying cause of the leukocytes is an infection, other symptoms may be present. Some of the common symptoms of leukocytes in urine include:
- Frequent urination
- Pain or burning sensation during urination
- Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
- Blood in the urine
- Pelvic pain in women
- Rectal pain in men
- Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Lower back pain
- Fever and chills
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seeing a healthcare provider for an evaluation is essential.
12 Common Causes of Leukocytes in Urine
There are many potential causes of leukocytes in urine. Some of the common causes include:
Infections are a leading cause of leukocytes in urine. Conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney infections, and bladder infections can all trigger an increase in white blood cells.
UTIs, commonly caused by bacteria such as E. coli, can lead to irritation and inflammation of the urinary tract. This, in turn, prompts the body to send white blood cells to combat the infection. Symptoms often include frequent and painful urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, and abdominal discomfort.
Treatment: UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics to eliminate the underlying bacterial infection. Drinking plenty of water and maintaining good hygiene can also help prevent future infections.
2. Kidney Stones
Kidney stones, or renal calculi, can lead to leukocyturia due to the mechanical irritation they cause within the urinary tract.
As these small, hard deposits pass through the urinary system, they can create friction and inflammation. This can result in the release of white blood cells as the body responds to the irritation.
People with kidney stones may experience severe pain in the back or side, pain during urination, and blood in the urine.
Treatment: Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size and location. Small stones may pass naturally through increased fluid intake. Larger stones may require medical intervention, including medications to ease pain and procedures to break down or remove the stones.
3. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause infections in the urinary tract, leading to an increased presence of leukocytes in urine.
Chlamydia, for instance, can cause urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) and subsequently trigger an immune response. Symptoms of STI-related leukocyturia may include pain during urination, unusual discharge, and pelvic discomfort.
Treatment: STIs are typically treated with antibiotics. It’s crucial to complete the full course of treatment to ensure the infection is completely eradicated. Partners should also be tested and treated if necessary.
4. Bladder or Kidney Inflammation
Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) or kidneys (pyelonephritis) can lead to leukocyturia. Chronic conditions that cause persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune disorders or recurrent infections, can contribute to elevated white blood cell counts in the urine.
Symptoms may vary, including pain in the lower abdomen, fever, and changes in urinary habits.
Treatment: Treatment for bladder or kidney inflammation depends on the underlying cause. Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections, while anti-inflammatory medications can help manage inflammation.
5. Interstitial Cystitis
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder condition characterized by inflammation of the bladder wall. This condition can lead to recurring discomfort, pain, and urination urgency.
The inflammation prompts the release of leukocytes as the body tries to address the ongoing irritation. People with interstitial cystitis may experience pelvic pain, frequent urination, and a strong urge to urinate.
Treatment: Interstitial cystitis treatment may include lifestyle changes, such as dietary adjustments, pelvic floor exercises, and stress management techniques. Medications and bladder instillations can also be prescribed to alleviate symptoms.
Inflammation of the prostate gland, known as prostatitis, can lead to leukocyturia in men. Prostatitis can result from bacterial infections or non-bacterial causes.
The inflammation triggers the body’s immune response, leading to an increased presence of white blood cells in the urine. Symptoms of prostatitis may include pain in the groin, difficulty urinating, and discomfort in the pelvic region.
Treatment: Treatment for prostatitis depends on the underlying cause. Bacterial prostatitis is treated with antibiotics, while non-bacterial prostatitis may require pain management and lifestyle adjustments.
Pregnant women might experience leukocyturia due to hormonal changes and potential infections. Pregnancy hormones can affect the urinary tract, making it more susceptible to infections.
Additionally, the pressure on the bladder from an enlarging uterus can contribute to urinary tract discomfort. Monitoring any changes in urinary habits during pregnancy is essential.
Treatment: Treatment during pregnancy focuses on managing symptoms and preventing complications. Pregnant individuals should consult their healthcare provider for guidance on safe interventions.
Uncontrolled diabetes can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections. Infections that affect the urinary tract can cause an elevation in leukocytes.
Diabetes-related leukocyturia is often accompanied by other symptoms such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, and unexplained weight loss.
Treatment: Proper diabetes management, including blood sugar control and medication adherence, can help prevent complications that lead to urinary tract infections and leukocyturia.
9. Autoimmune Disorders
Certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, can lead to inflammation throughout the body, including the urinary tract.
This chronic inflammation can result in leukocyturia as white blood cells are mobilized to address the ongoing immune response. Individuals with autoimmune disorders may experience various symptoms, from fatigue to joint pain.
Treatment: Treatment for autoimmune disorders focuses on managing symptoms and suppressing the immune response. This may involve medications that reduce inflammation and modulate immune activity.
10. Medication Side Effects
Some medications, particularly certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can lead to leukocyturia as a side effect. These medications can affect the immune system and disrupt the body’s balance of white blood cells.
If you suspect that your medication might be causing leukocyturia, consult your healthcare provider for guidance.
Treatment: If medication side effects are causing leukocyturia, your healthcare provider may adjust your medication regimen or recommend alternative treatments.
11. Strenuous Exercise
Intense physical activity can lead to temporary leukocytosis, where the number of white blood cells increases. This is often a normal physiological response to the stress of exercise.
The body mobilizes immune cells to support tissue repair and recovery. However, this type of leukocytosis is usually short-lived and not a cause for concern.
Treatment: No specific treatment is required for exercise-induced leukocytosis. Rest and proper hydration can help the body recover naturally.
12. Stress and Dehydration
Chronic stress and dehydration can influence immune system function, potentially leading to increased leukocytes in urine. Stress can suppress the immune system, while dehydration can affect overall bodily functions, including the urinary tract’s ability to flush out toxins.
Practicing stress management techniques and maintaining proper hydration can help prevent stress-related leukocyturia.
Treatment: Managing stress through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and seeking support from mental health professionals can help mitigate the impact of stress on immune function. Staying hydrated by drinking water regularly is essential to maintain overall bodily functions.
How to Prevent Leukocyturia in Urine?
Leukocyturia, while not a disease itself, can be a sign of an infection or inflammation in the urinary tract. Adopting certain lifestyle changes and practicing good hygiene can significantly reduce the risk of leukocyturia.
1. Maintain Hygiene and Stay Hydrated
- Hygiene Matters: Proper hygiene is crucial to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can lead to leukocyturia. Always wipe from front to back after using the toilet to avoid introducing bacteria to the urinary tract.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking adequate water helps flush out bacteria and toxins from the urinary tract. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water daily to keep your system clean and healthy.
2. Follow a Balanced Diet
- Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin C: Vitamin C boosts the immune system and can help prevent infections. Include citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries in your diet.
- Probiotics Are Beneficial: Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir can promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which in turn can support urinary tract health.
3. Practice Safe Intercourse and Urination
- Urinate Before and After Intercourse: This helps flush out any bacteria that might have entered the urethra during intercourse, reducing the risk of infections.
- Stay Clean After Intercourse: Washing the genital area after intercourse can help prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce the likelihood of infections.
4. Wear Breathable Clothing
- Choose Cotton Underwear: Cotton allows better airflow and reduces moisture, creating an unfavorable environment for bacteria growth.
- Avoid Tight-Fitting Clothes: Tight-fitting clothing can trap moisture and heat, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.
5. Maintain Regular Bathroom Habits
- Don’t Hold It In: Urinating regularly prevents the buildup of bacteria in the urinary tract. Holding in urine gives bacteria more time to multiply.
- Fully Empty Your Bladder: Make sure to completely empty your bladder during each bathroom visit to avoid stagnant urine that can lead to infections.
1. Can leukocytes in urine indicate a serious condition?
Yes, leukocytes in urine can be a sign of an underlying health issue, including infections, kidney problems, or chronic conditions. If you consistently notice leukocyturia, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation.
2. Should I be concerned if I have leukocytes in my urine during pregnancy?
While hormonal changes can cause leukocyturia during pregnancy, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider. They can determine whether the leukocytes are due to a normal pregnancy-related factor or an underlying issue.
3. Is leukocyturia more common in women?
Yes, women are generally more prone to urinary tract infections, which can result in leukocyturia. Proper hygiene and hydration are crucial for prevention.
4. How can I differentiate between normal urine and leukocyturia?
Leukocyturia might not cause noticeable changes in urine color or odor. It’s detected through a urinalysis test that checks for the presence of white blood cells.
5. What are leukocytes in urine without nitrates?
Leukocytes in urine without nitrates may indicate an early or mild urinary tract infection, as not all bacteria that cause infections produce nitrate. The white blood cells in the urine may be present due to a non-infectious cause, such as inflammation or injury in the urinary tract.
In some cases, the absence of nitrate in the urine may also indicate a false negative result on a urine dipstick test, a common method used to test for leukocytes and nitrate in urine.
6. When should I seek medical attention for leukocytes in my urine?
Suppose you notice persistent leukocyturia, especially accompanied by other symptoms. It is recommended to see a doctor if you have leukocytes in your urine or any of the following symptoms:
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequent urination
- Urgent need to urinate
- Cloudy, foul-smelling, or discolored urine
- Lower abdominal or back pain
- Fever or chills
- Nausea or vomiting