International Journal of Preventive Medicine

: 2019  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 35-

Simplified algorithm for evaluation of proteinuria in clinical practice: How should a clinician approach?

Mojgan Mazaheri1, Farahnak Assadi2,  
1 Department of Pediatrics, Section of Nephrology, Semnan University of Medical Sciences, Semnan, Iran
2 Department of Pediatrics, Section of Nephrology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Correspondence Address:
Farahnak Assadi
445 E. North Water Street, Suite 1804, Chicago, IL


Background: Proteinuria is a common laboratory finding among children and adolescents. It can be identified as either a transient or a persistent finding and can represent a benign condition or a serious disease. Methods: Pertinent medical literature for asymptomatic proteinuria in children and adolescents published in English was searched between January 1980 and May 2017 using PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Google Scholar research databases. Of the 64 reviewed articles, 24 studies were eligible for inclusion. Results: Random spot urine protein-to-creatinine (PCR) ratio is widely used to reliably detect proteinuria. The normal value for the spot PCR in children aged 2 years or older is less than 0.3. In children aged below 2 years, the PCR can be as high as 0.5. Orthostatic proteinuria is defined as urine PCR greater than 0.3 detected in a urine specimen during the daytime activity but less than 0.3 on the first morning void specimen. PCR above 3.0 signifies heavy proteinuria as seen in nephrotic syndrome. Orthostatic proteinuria is a frequent cause of proteinuria in asymptomatic children and adolescents, which require no specific therapy except for health maintenance follow-up. Pediatric nephrologist referral is indicated when the proteinuria is constant and persists over 6 months or is associated with hematuria, hypertension, or renal dysfunction. Conclusions: We provide a simplified diagnostic algorithm for evaluation of proteinuria in primary care adolescents who appear well and in whom proteinuria is incidentally discovered during a routine examination.

How to cite this article:
Mazaheri M, Assadi F. Simplified algorithm for evaluation of proteinuria in clinical practice: How should a clinician approach?.Int J Prev Med 2019;10:35-35

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Mazaheri M, Assadi F. Simplified algorithm for evaluation of proteinuria in clinical practice: How should a clinician approach?. Int J Prev Med [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Mar 23 ];10:35-35
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Proteinuria is a frequent laboratory finding both in the outpatient clinic and inpatient settings. The finding of protein in the urine may reflect either a benign finding or significant renal functional disorders or structural abnormalities.[1],[2],[3],[4] This distinction is possible by carefully taking the patient's medical history, performing through physical examination, and ordering appropriate laboratory investigations.

Evaluation of proteinuria should begin with a careful history and thorough physical examination, urine microscopic examination, and determination of the amount of protein excretion rate (PER). The PER has been traditionally measured using 24-h urine collections. However, the collection of 24-h urine is often cumbersome, and spot urinary protein-to-creatinine ratio (PCR), expressed in g/g or mg/mg, has become a simple and attractive yet reliable alternative. A spot urine PCR has been found to have a significant linear correlation with a 24-h urine PCR.[5],[6],[7],[8],[9] Furthermore, because the PCR compares urinary protein concentration with urinary creatinine concentration, urinary dilution or concentration does not influence this value.

We present a simple practical diagnostic approach to differentiate benign proteinuria from proteinuria resulting from glomerular disease in children and adolescents who present with asymptomatic isolated proteinuria.


Pertinent medical literature for proteinuria published in English was searched from January 1980 to May 2017 using PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Google Scholar research databases, and then the search was extended as linked citations indicated. The search terms included asymptomatic proteinuria, isolated proteinuria, children, adolescents, evaluation, and management. Of the 64 reviewed articles, 24 studies were eligible for inclusion.


The initial evaluation of proteinuria should include a complete history, including a family history of renal disease, recent upper respiratory infections, gross hematuria, and changes in urine output. The physical examination should include urinalysis and examination of urine sediment; measurements of height, weight, and blood pressure; identification of edema, ascites, and skin pallor; and palpation of the kidneys.

Orthostatic proteinuria is a benign medical condition with excellent long-term prognosis, and it does not warrant an extensive workup. Patients with constant proteinuria, which persists beyond 6 months, or proteinuria associated with hematuria, hypertension, or abnormal renal function may require referral to a pediatric nephrologist.


We aimed to provide an organized practical approach for the primary care adolescents to evaluate a child with proteinuria that emphasizes common conditions and stepwise laboratory and radiologic investigations [Figure 1].{Figure 1}

Urinary PER in the normal child is less than 100 mg/m2 per day or a total of 150 mg per day. Healthy children excrete small amounts of protein in their urine, which varies with age and the size of the child.[2],[3],[4] In neonates, normal urinary protein excretion is higher, up to 300 mg/m2 per day, because of reduced reabsorption of filtered protein. In children, PER decreases progressively with age until late childhood till it reaches the adult levels of less than 150 mg/m2 per day [Table 1].[2],[3],[4]{Table 1}

The urine dipstick method is widely used in routine office evaluation of proteinuria. The urine protein dipstick is sensitive to the albumin concentration of the urine. It can yield both false-negative and false-positive results in the presence of dilute (specific gravity less than 10.10) or alkaline urine (pH greater than 7.0), respectively.[7]

The 24-h urine collection is traditionally used for the urinary protein quantitation. The 24-h urine collection can be done as a single collection or two split collections during the daytime activity and overnight recumbent positions.[6],[7] However, the 24-h timed urine collections, particularly, in small children, cumbersome and often are flawed with collection errors.

Furthermore, PER can vary significantly from day to day and is also influenced by diet, posture, exercise, and body size. Does a 10-kg patient seem as “nephrotic” at 0.5 g per day protein excretion compared with the 80-kg patient at 4.0 g per day? Does the 80-kg patient have eight times worse glomerular disease and is this person eight times as nephrotic [Table 2].{Table 2}

The answer is “NO!” These value by themselves, while each a eightfold difference, are similar in each of the two patients and have the same clinical significance as their PCR values are similar, 2.5 mg/mg [Table 2]. The ease and simplicity of obtaining first morning spot urine PCR value allows one to exactly estimate the 24-h PER and automatically adjust values for patient size.[10]

A random spot PCR is a good representative of 24-h urine PCR, and is now widely used in children in lieu of a 24-h urine collection because of its convenience and simplicity.[5],[6],[7],[8],[9] One of the advantages of measuring the spot untimed urine PCR over a 24-h urine protein measurement is that the urinary concentration or dilution does not affect its values as the PCR compares urinary protein concentration with urinary creatinine concentration, and as a result, the urinary concentration or dilution does not affect its value.[9],[11]

The KDIGO guidelines (Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes) reports that there are insufficient data to recommend 24-h or spot urine for PER.[12]

More recent studies have compared the first morning void PCR and random single void PCR with the PCR of a timed urine collection ranging from 4 to 24 h to determine collection accuracy in PER, documenting the accuracy and reliability of random single void for determination of PER.[10],[13],[14] Because a false-positive result may occur if urine in highly diluted, the PCR should be performed on a first-voided morning specimen rather than the one collected randomly later in the day.[9],[10],[12]

The normal PCR in children and adolescents is less than 0.3. In infants and younger children, the PCR is higher with the upper normal limit of 0.5. PCR above 3.0 is found in patients with nephrotic syndrome.[9] The daily PER can be determined from spot urine PCR, based on sex, age, and weight using the following equations.[9],[10],[13],[14],[15]

PER (g/m2 per day) =0.63 × (PCR)

Many clinical disorders are associated with proteinuria [Table 3]. Transient proteinuria is benign and non-pathologic and is usually after infantile febrile seizure, exposure to rigid cold, and strenuous exercise.[16],[17] These conditions require no specific therapy and need only health maintenance follow-up.{Table 3}

Orthostatic proteinuria is diagnosed when the PCR is greater than 0.3 in a urine specimen tested during the daytime activity but less than 0.3 when the urine is collected after the nighttime recumbent position [Table 3].[16],[17]

Isolated persistent proteinuria lasting more than 6 months or proteinuria complicated with hematuria, hypertension, or abnormal renal function usually associated with glomerular lesions or congenital kidney and urinary tract anomalies such as unilateral kidney agenesis, obstructive hydronephrosis, and reflux nephropathy, which often require further evaluations including renal ultrasonography and voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG) [Table 4].[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23] If proteinuria is associated glomerulonephritis, then referral to a pediatric nephrologist is warranted for possible renal biopsy indication [Figure 1].[22],[23] Further therapeutic regimen with immunosuppressive medications, inhibition of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) or angiotensin receptor blockade (ARB), may be indicated to slowing the progression of glomerular disease.[24]{Table 4}


We have developed a simple and yet cost-effective diagnostic algorithm that is based on determinations of random urine PCR to differentiate the multiple causes of proteinuria in children and adolescents, in a step-by-step fashion [Figure 1]. The ease and simplicity of obtaining first morning spot urine PCR value allows one to exactly estimate the 24-h PER. Utilization of this approach brings a greater clarity and simplicity for evaluation of patients with asymptomatic isolated proteinuria.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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