5-4-2. Physical Characteristics of Urine
The urinary system’s ability to filter the blood resides in about 2 to 3 million tufts of specialized capillaries—the glomeruli—distributed more or less equally between the two kidneys. Because the glomeruli filter the blood based mostly on particle size, large elements like blood cells, platelets, antibodies, and albumen are excluded. The glomerulus is the first part of the nephron, which then continues as a highly specialized tubular structure responsible for creating the final urine composition. All other solutes, such as ions, amino acids, vitamins, and wastes, are filtered to create a filtrate composition very similar to plasma. The glomeruli create about 200 liters (189 quarts) of this filtrate every day, yet you excrete less than two liters of waste you call urine.
Characteristics of the urine change, depending on influences such as water intake, exercise, environmental temperature, nutrient intake, and other factors (Table 1). Some of the characteristics such as color and odor are rough descriptors of your state of hydration. For example, if you exercise or work outside, and sweat a great deal, your urine will turn darker and produce a slight odor, even if you drink plenty of water. Athletes are often advised to consume water until their urine is clear. This is good advice; however, it takes time for the kidneys to process body fluids and store it in the bladder. Another way of looking at this is that the quality of the urine produced is an average over the time it takes to make that urine. Producing clear urine may take only a few minutes if you are drinking a lot of water or several hours if you are working outside and not drinking much.
Table 1. Normal Urine Characteristics
Urine volume varies considerably. The normal range is one to two liters per day (Table 2). The kidneys must produce a minimum urine volume of about 500 mL/day to rid the body of wastes. Output below this level may be caused by severe dehydration or renal disease and is termed
Table 2. Urine Volumes
The pH (hydrogen ion concentration) of the urine can vary more than 1000-fold, from a normal low of 4.5 to a maximum of 8.0. Diet can influence pH; meats lower the pH, whereas citrus fruits, vegetables, and dairy products raise the pH. Chronically high or low pH can lead to disorders, such as the development of kidney stones or osteomalacia.
Specific gravity is a measure of the quantity of solutes per unit volume of a solution and is traditionally easier to measure than osmolarity. Urine will always have a specific gravity greater than pure water (water = 1.0) due to the presence of solutes. Laboratories can now measure urine osmolarity directly, which is a more accurate indicator of urinary solutes than
Cells are not normally found in the urine. The presence of leukocytes may indicate a urinary tract infection.
Protein does not normally leave the glomerular capillaries, so only trace amounts of protein should be found in the urine, approximately 10 mg/100 mL in a random sample. If excessive protein is detected in the urine, it usually means that the glomerulus is damaged and is allowing protein to “leak” into the filtrate.
Ketones are byproducts of fat metabolism. Finding ketones in the urine suggests that the body is using fat as an energy source in preference to glucose. In diabetes mellitus when there is not enough insulin (type I diabetes mellitus) or because of insulin resistance (type II diabetes mellitus), there is plenty of glucose, but without the action of insulin, the cells cannot take it up, so it remains in the bloodstream. Instead, the cells are forced to use fat as their energy source, and fat consumed at such a level produces excessive ketones as byproducts. These excess ketones will appear in the urine. Ketones may also appear if there is a severe deficiency of proteins or carbohydrates in the diet.
Nitrates (NO3–) occur normally in the urine. Gram-negative bacteria metabolize nitrate into nitrite (NO2–), and its presence in the urine is indirect evidence of infection.
There should be no blood found in the urine. It may sometimes appear in urine samples as a result of menstrual contamination, but this is not an abnormal condition. Now that you understand what the normal characteristics of urine are, the next section will introduce you to how you store and dispose of this waste product and how you make it.
The kidney glomerulus filters blood mainly based on particle size to produce a filtrate lacking cells or large proteins. Most of the ions and molecules in the filtrate are needed by the body and must be reabsorbed farther down the nephron tubules, resulting in the formation of urine. Urine characteristics change depending on water intake, exercise, environmental temperature, and nutrient intake. Urinalysis analyzes characteristics of the urine and is used to diagnose diseases. A minimum of 400 to 500 mL urine must be produced daily to rid the body of wastes. Excessive quantities of urine may indicate diabetes insipidus or diabetes mellitus. The pH range of urine is 4.5 to 8.0, and is affected by diet. Osmolarity ranges from 50 to 1200 milliosmoles, and is a reflection of the amount of water being recovered or lost by renal nephrons.
Diabetes insipidus or diabetes mellitus would most likely be indicated by ________.
The color of urine is determined mainly by ________.
Production of less than 50 mL/day of urine is called ________.
Critical Thinking Questions
What is suggested by the presence of white blood cells found in the urine?
The presence of white blood cells found in the urine suggests urinary tract infection.
Both diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus produce large urine volumes, but how would other characteristics of the urine differ between the two diseases?
Diabetes mellitus would result in urine containing glucose, and diabetes insipidus would produce urine with very low osmolarity (low specific gravity, dilute).