What is protein electrophoresis?

Proteins are found in the blood of healthy people. They play an important role in supporting optimal body functioning and health. For example, they:

  • carry oxygen to where it’s needed in the body
  • aid in digestion
  • support muscle movement
  • fight off disease
  • support the growth and maintenance of tissues throughout the entire body

However, you should not have a lot of protein in your urine.

Urine protein electrophoresis (UPEP) is a test your doctor can use to determine if there’s protein in your urine. It can also help your doctor find out how much of each type of protein is present.

Your doctor will usually order a UPEP test if they suspect that you have a condition that causes elevated protein levels in urine, such as multiple myeloma or amyloidosis.

Your doctor may also order this test if an earlier test showed there was protein in your urine. In this case, your doctor will use UPEP to monitor any treatment or disease progress.

Most of 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’s found in high levels in the blood. Most globulins are produced in the liver. They include four main types of proteins:

  • alpha-1 globulin
  • alpha-2 globulin
  • beta globulin
  • gamma globulin

UPEP measures the levels of both major types of proteins in the urine.

Test preparation

Most people won’t need to take special steps to prepare for a UPEP test. However, you may need to stop taking some types of medication that can alter your test results. Examples include:

  • salicylates
  • chlorpromazine
  • corticosteroids
  • neomycin
  • tolbutamide

Ask your doctor before you stop taking any medications.

Completing the test

To complete a UPEP test, you need to collect a small amount of urine in the container provided.

Make sure your genital area is clean. Men should wipe the head of their penis. Women should use soap and water or an antibacterial wipe to clean their vulva. If using soap, make sure you fully rinse it away. This is done to prepare for collection of a “clean-catch” specimen.

To continue the clean-catch process, urinate a small amount before you begin collecting the sample. This helps flush out impurities from the urethra so that they won’t be included in the sample.

You probably need to collect about 2 ounces of urine at most. Your doctor or a lab worker will tell you how much urine is needed.

Different methods are used for collecting urine samples from infants. Ask your doctor about urine collection bags and how to use them on your baby.

Electrophoresis is used to analyze the urine 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 protein to separate and create bands on the paper.

A lab technician analyzes the bands to determine if the two proteins are present in the sample and, if so, how much of them there are.

Normal results

Interpreting the test results for UPEP is fairly straightforward:

  • Globulins shouldn’t be present in your urine.
  • Albumin levels should be below 5 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
  • Any amount of globulins — or more than 5 mg/dL of albumin — will be considered abnormal.

Elevated protein levels

A number of conditions can lead to high levels of protein in your urine. Examples include:

Your doctor may need to perform other tests to pinpoint the exact cause of abnormal protein levels.

After your doctor identifies the cause, they can provide more information about potential treatment options.