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High levels of leukocytes or white blood cells in your urine may indicate a urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney stones, a pelvic tumor, or another condition. Treatment can depend on the cause.

High leukocyte levels may show up during a complete blood cell (CBC) test or urinalysis, which is a urine test.

High levels of white blood cells (WBCs) suggest you have inflammation somewhere in your urinary tract, which could indicate an infection.

Here, find out what it means if tests show there are high levels of leukocytes in your urine.

Leukocytes are WBCs. The body produces them as part of the immune response to fight an infection or other unwanted invader.

There are different types of WBC, such as neutrophils and basophils, but they all play a role in the immune system. When an infection or other unwanted presence occurs in a specific area, WBCs will move toward that area to defend it.

For this reason, higher levels of leukocytes may be a sign of an infection.

A blood test may detect high leukocyte levels in the bloodstream, but if problems arise around the urinary system, tests may also reveal high levels of leukocytes in urine.

High levels in urine could indicate an infection in the bladder or the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. They could also be a sign of a kidney infection. But, they can also stem from non-infectious causes, such as kidney stones.

High leukocyte levels in urine could be a sign of:

There is a higher risk of a UTI during pregnancy. It’s important to seek treatment for UTIs during pregnancy because they can lead to complications.

Holding in urine for too long can also increase the risk of a UTI. When urine remains too long in the bladder, bacteria can increase in number, which may lead to a bladder infection.

Having a cancerous tumor or receiving treatment for a tumor in the pelvic area may also weaken the immune system, leading to a higher risk of infections and a higher numbers of leukocytes.

Sterile pyuria can also lead to high levels of white blood cells in urine without the presence of bacteria. It’s been linked to various causes, such as tuberculosis (TB), some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cystitis, bladder cancer, and autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Some medications can also cause leukocyte levels to rise.

They include:

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • steroids
  • proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as Omeprazole, which reduce stomach acid
  • some antibiotics

If leukocytes are present in your urine, any symptoms will depend on the condition that is causing them to accumulate there.

UTI symptoms

The symptoms of a UTI include:

  • a frequent urge to urinate
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • cloudy or pink-tinted urine
  • strong smelling urine
  • pelvic pain

Signs of an obstruction

Symptoms of a blockage will depend on the location and type of obstruction.

Pain is a common symptom of an obstruction. It may affect one or both sides of the abdomen. A blockage due to kidney stones may cause nausea, vomiting, and intense pain.

There is a higher risk of a UTI among:

  • females in general, compared with males
  • people who are pregnant
  • males with an enlarged prostate
  • anyone with a compromised immune system

If you’re healthy, you can still have high leukocytes in your bloodstream and urine.

If your doctor suspects you have a UTI or kidney stones, they’ll likely ask you to provide a urine sample. They’ll test the sample for:

  • WBCs
  • red blood cells
  • bacteria
  • other substances

If the results reveal levels above 10 WBC/HPF in urine, it’s likely you have inflammation. This could indicate a bacterial infection, depending on symptoms and whether bacteria and/or nitrites (a by-product of certain bacteria) are present.

A urine culture can determine if you have a bacterial infection, and which bacteria are present.

A doctor may also recommend an X-ray or CT scan to see if any stones are visible.

Treatment will depend on the cause of high leukocyte levels.

For a UTI, a doctor may recommend antibiotics and to drink plenty of water.

For an obstruction, they may suggest:

  • drinking plenty of water to flush out small kidney stones
  • a procedure using sound waves to break up kidney stones
  • a surgical procedure to remove a large stone

If tests show that the blockage results from a tumor, you may need further tests and treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these.

What are some more remedies for a bladder infection?

With early diagnosis and prompt treatment, it is usually possible to resolve a UTI or kidney stones, although both can recur.

A benign tumor may require surgery.

Cancerous growths are also treatable, but the options will depend on many factors, such as how far cancer has spread.

Ways to prevent urinary tract issues include:

  • drinking plenty of fluid
  • wiping from front to back after using the bathroom
  • washing the genital area carefully before and after sex, and drying well after washing
  • peeing as soon as possible after sex
  • for people using incontinence pads, changing them frequently
  • seeking help promptly for any changes in urine, such as the color or smell or if there is pain when urinating or in the pelvic area
  • taking any medications as prescribed, even if symptoms improve, to prevent a recurrence

A 2023 review suggests that consuming cranberry juice or cranberries may help prevent a UTI in some people.

Can you have leukocytes in urine but no UTI?

It is possible to have leukocytes in urine if you have sterile pyuria, which occurs with certain autoimmune conditions and bladder cancer. Some medications can cause high levels of leukocytes in the urine, such as NSAIDs, steroids, PPIs, and some antibiotics.

Do leukocytes in urine only mean UTI?

High WBC levels in urine can be a sign of different types of infection, but it can also indicate a blockage of some sort, various health conditions, and the use of some medications.

What can cause leukocytes in urine besides UTI?

Other possible causes include a benign or cancerous tumor, kidney stones, TB, some STIs, autoimmune conditions such as SLE, and some forms of cancer. The use of various medications can also raise leukocyte levels in urine.

High levels of leukocytes or white blood cells in urine often indicate an infection. However, there may be other causes, such as kidney stones or a benign or cancerous growth.

Be sure to seek help quickly for any pelvic pain, discomfort, or urinary changes, as complications can arise if you don’t receive prompt treatment for any of the causes of high leukocytes in urine.