It is not uncommon for urine tests to reveal white blood cells or leukocytes. Usually, they signal nothing more concerning than a urinary tract infection, which is quite easily treated. Doctors can detect leukocytes in urine with routine urine tests.
Germs are always trying to enter the body. If they succeed, illness can follow. Fortunately, our immune systems are ready and waiting to fight off germs and keep us healthy. At the front line of defense is an army of leukocytes or white blood cells. When a potentially harmful bacteria or virus breaches the skin barrier, leukocytes spring into action to neutralize the danger. They fend off germs in a variety of ways: some produce antibodies to fight the bug, while others completely engulf the threatening agent.
Many foreign agents can enter the body and potentially cause illness. To fight these interlopers, the immune system has five types of leukocytes in its arsenal: neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes. Each has different properties and is capable of dealing with different threats. The most common white blood cells are the neutrophils, which engulf any threatening agent they encounter. Monocytes do the same. Basophils kick-start an inflammatory response, while eosinophils give off chemicals that combat allergies and parasites. Finally, lymphocytes are perfectly designed to fight off specific viruses.
Doctors detect leukocytes in urine with routine urine sample testing. Often, an individual first sees the doctor complained of pain or feeling unwell. He or she will be asked to provide a urine sample, and a simple dipstick test can identify the presence of white blood cells. A small strip of plastic coated with special chemicals is inserted into the sample; if white blood cells are present, the stick will change color to alert the doctor to the problem.
White blood cells in the urine sample may indicate an individual has a urinary tract infection. This infection could be anywhere in the excretory system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, though the latter two are the most common locations. The infection is usually due to an invasion of E. coli bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract. An infection in the bladder is known as cystitis, whereas infection of the urethra is called urethritis.
Anyone can develop a urinary tract infection and have leukocytes in their urine. However, some people are more at risk than others. Women are more likely to develop these infections because their anatomy makes it more likely for bacteria to get into the bladder. Increased sexual activity and the hormonal changes associated with menopause can increase the risk. Other risk factors include a compromised immune system, use of a catheter, and recent surgery.
Some people have no symptoms when they have urinary tract infections. However, several telltale signs indicate a problem. Urine may appear to be cloudy or even be stained pink with blood if the infection has advanced. It is also common to feel a burning or stinging pain when passing urine, and some people also feel pain in their lower stomach or back. The infection is often accompanied by a strong and frequent need to pass urine, and sometimes the development of a fever.
Usually, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection in the urinary tract. This will also help to stop the infection from reaching the kidneys, which is more serious. It is also a good idea for anyone suffering from a urinary tract infection to drink plenty of water to better help the body flush out the toxins.
Fortunately, plenty of measures can minimize the risk of developing a urinary tract infection. The easiest is to stay well hydrated. Drinking plenty of water means more trips to the restroom, which flush bacteria out of the urinary tract. Women should take extra steps to avoid infection by wiping front to back after going to the washroom; this prevents bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract from entering the urinary system. Prompt urination after sexual intercourse and the avoidance of using harsh body washes can also reduce the risk.
Occasionally, leukocytes can indicate a urinary tract infection has spread to the kidneys. Kidney infections require prompt attention and treatment from a doctor. When left unchecked, a kidney infection can cause lifelong damage and even adversely affect the bloodstream, which leads to more widespread illness. Antibiotics are the most common treatment for early-stage kidney infection, and hospital admission is possible in more advanced stages.
Patients with a kidney infection are likely to experience many of the same symptoms as somebody with an infection in their lower urinary tract. However, kidney infections tend to leave individuals feeling much worse. Common signs and symptoms include a fever and body chills, bloody urine, and persistent pain in the back, lower abdomen, or in the side of the body. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting. Blood in the urine and vomiting are signs that a kidney infection is very severe and requires immediate care from a doctor.
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