Proteins play an important role in supporting optimal body functioning and health. For example, they:
- carry oxygen to where it is needed in the body
- aid in digestion
- support muscle movement
- fight off disease
- support the growth and maintenance of tissues throughout the entire body.
Proteins are found in the blood of healthy individuals. However, they shouldn’t be present in the urine in high amounts. Urine protein electrophoresis (UPEP) can determine if there’s protein in the urine. It can also help your doctor find out how much of each type of protein is present.
A doctor will usually order a UPEP if he or she suspects that you have a condition that causes elevated protein levels in urine, such as multiple sclerosis.
Your doctor may also order this test if an earlier test showed there was protein in your urine. In this case, the doctor will use UPEP to monitor any treatment or disease progress.
All the proteins in your body that help keep you healthy can be placed into two major groups: albumin and globulins. Albumin is a single protein that is found in high levels in the blood.
The majority of globulins are produced in the liver and include four main types of proteins. They are:
- alpha-1 globulin
- alpha-2 globulin
- beta globulin
- gamma globulin
UPEP measures the levels of both major types of proteins in the urine.
Most people will not need to prepare for a UPEP test. However, you may need to stop taking some types of medications, as they can affect the results of the test. Examples include:
Ask your doctor before you stop taking any medications.
UPEP entails collecting a small amount of urine in the container provided.
Make sure the genital area is clean. Men should wipe the penis head. Women should use soap and water or an antibacterial wipe to clean the area. If using soap, make sure it is fully rinsed away.
Urinate a small amount before you begin collecting the sample. This will help flush out any impurities in the urethra so they won’t be included in the sample.
You will usually need to collect about two ounces of urine at most. Your doctor or a lab worker will tell you how much is needed.
Different methods are used for collecting a sample from infants. Ask your doctor about urine collection bags and how to use them on your baby.
Electrophoresis is used to analyze the sample. In this process, a lab technician places the urine on a special type of paper and applies an electric current. This causes the two main types of proteins to separate and create bands on the paper. A lab technician analyzes the bands to determine if proteins are present in the sample and how much.
Interpreting the test results for UPEP is fairly straightforward. Globulins should not be present. Albumin levels should be below five milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Any amount of globulins or more than five mg/dL of albumin will be considered abnormal.
Elevated Protein Levels
A number of conditions can cause one or both types of proteins to be present in high levels in the urine. Examples include:
- reduced kidney function or kidney failure
- inflammation (acute as opposed to chronic)
- urinary tract infection (acute)
- kidney damage (may be due to a variety of causes)
- multiple myeloma (a rare cancer)
Your doctor will likely need to perform other tests to pinpoint the exact cause of abnormal results.