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What Does It Mean to Have Squamous Epithelial Cells in Urine?

The presence of squamous epithelial cells in your urine sample may mean it was contaminated by cells from the urethra or vagina opening.

The most common cause of epithelial cells in urine is improper urine sample collection. Your doctor may, therefore, ask you to take another urine test.

The presence of epithelial cells in urine may indicate infections, kidney disease, or (very rarely) a serious illness such as a tumor. Depending on the number of epithelial cells in the urine, they are categorized as few, moderate, or many.

A few epithelial cells in the urine sample on and off are probably nothing to worry about. Your body sheds off these cells regularly unless the count does not exceed the standard limit, which is less than 15 to 20 squamous epithelial cells/hpf.

If there are more than the specified number of epithelial cells in your urine test, it indicates the presence of any of the following conditions:

  • Urinary tract infections, such as:
    • Urethritis (urethral infection)
    • Cystitis (urinary bladder infection)
    • Kidney infection
  • Underlying kidney diseases such as nephrotic syndrome or glomerulonephritis
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced kidney damage
  • Renal calculi (kidney stones)
  • Renal cancer

Can I have a high epithelial cell count in urine in absence of a kidney condition?

In certain systemic conditions, it is possible to have a high epithelial cell count in urine.

Risk factors for a high epithelial cell count in urine include:

  • Liver disease
  • Weak immune system
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Family history of kidney disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Ethnicity
    • African
    • Asian
    • American Indian
    • Hispanic

Treatment Options

Once the doctor establishes the root cause for the presence of epithelial cells in the urine, they will initiate a suitable treatment aimed at the underlying cause.

  • They may indicate a urine test after the treatment to determine whether the disease is cured.
  • They may advise lifestyle modifications to reduce the intensity of chronic conditions such as frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections, including:
    • changes in your diet,
    • increase physical activity or exercise, and
    • weight loss.

What is a clean catch method?

The source of epithelial cells in urine is the urethral lining. The clean catch method is used to make sure the urine sample collection is not contaminated with epithelial cells.

When you have to collect a small amount of your urine in a special sterile container, follow a few steps that help you prevent contamination of the urine sample, such as:

  • Wash your hands clean before collecting the sample.
  • Remove the lid of the container and place it such that the inner part should be directed up exposed to air.
  • You will be given tissue paper, which men should use to clean the area around their penis, and women should use to clean their vagina from front to back.
  • Start to urinate into the toilet or urinal.
  • Let the first few drops of urine flow, and then place the container in the stream to collect a midstream sample.
  • You should be careful that the container rim does not touch your genitals.
  • After collection of the requisite amount, place the lid on the container.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and leave the container in its intended place.

By this method, you reduce the risk of contamination of the urine sample with epithelial cells that are present on the outer surface of your genitals.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/4/2021

References

Image Source: iStock Images

Urinalysis: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2074001-overview#a1

Quantitative analysis of epithelial cells in urine from men with and without urethritis: implications for studying epithelial: pathogen interactions in vivo: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719657/

Understanding urine testing: https://www.nursingtimes.net/archive/understanding-urine-testing-22-03-2005/

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