You may have heard of natural crystal formation on the ground. They can also be grown using chemistry sets. But did you know that the human body can also produce crystals? Yes, it is possible, and it is not the best thing when this happens.
What are Crystals in Urine?
The kidneys are responsible for the filtering of blood, thereby producing urine. Urine mainly comprises of water and many other substances eliminated by the body such as uric acid, calcium, and nitrogen. However, when the normal working of the kidneys becomes difficult due to different factors, the chemical composition of urine is changed leading to crystal formation.
When there is an excess concentration of dissolved solutes in urine, the pH levels get changed, thereby resulting in crystal formation. This condition is known as crystalluria, and sometimes, even healthy people may suffer from this condition. However, in most cases, it is an indicator of some organ dysfunction such as infection of the urinary tract or presence of stones in the urinary tract.
It is not considered abnormal if the urine samples taken from a healthy person shows traces of crystals upon testing. However, it should be a reason to take caution if they are present in excess quantities. Sometimes, crystalluria also results from the presence of kidney stones.
Production of Crystals in Urine
Most commonly, crystal formation in urine takes place as a result of dehydration or the side effect of medicines. If the urine color seems to be different than normal, it is best to go in for urine testing. Crystalluria can also be prevented by increasing the amount of water intake and making some basic changes to the diet. However, if the condition appears to be severe, it is important to understand the underlying cause of the condition.
Crystalluria occurs when the kidneys stop functioning in the normal way, resulting in supersaturated urine. The crystals are mainly formed from compounds such as phosphate, ammonium, and magnesium. It should be noted that urine highly saturated with these compounds does not always lead to crystal formation. There are several other factors that have a role in influencing the process of crystal formation.
These crystals are rather tiny and not really visible to the naked eye. They can only be seen under a microscope and are determined through urine testing. Symptoms such as cloudy urine are often the indicators of crystalluria. Urine analysis also shows the type of crystals that have been formed in urine. This usually means that the kidney is not being able to regulate the content of acid, salts, and minerals in urine. The factors affecting crystal formation include the pH level of urine and the concentration of certain chemical compounds.
Different Crystals Types Found in Urine
During urine analysis, the doctors observe the samples under a microscope to study the structure and the shape of the crystals. This allows them to determine the type of crystals present in urine. Given below are the different types of crystals that occur in urine and their implications.
1. Uric Acid Crystals
Uric acid present in the body is removed from the body while urinating. However, when it is present in an excess amount, it might lead to crystal formation. This can result in problems such as inflammation of the joints and kidney stones.
2. Calcium Oxalate Crystals
These crystals are formed when the blood has a high amount of calcium, cysteine, oxalate and an excess of fluid. These are one of the crystals that lead to the formation of kidney stones.
3. Cystine Crystals
These crystals are formed as a result of the amino acid leaking into the urine. Most often, this condition is an inherited one. Cystine crystals can lead to stones in the urinary bladder and the kidney on a frequent basis. Drinking lots of fluids can help in preventing the formation of cystine crystals to some extent.
4. Phosphate Crystals
The amount of phosphate present in the body has a direct link to the functioning of the kidneys. These crystals are usually caused due to eating diets rich in vitamin D and proteins. Sometimes, it is also caused due to an overactive parathyroid gland. Phosphate crystals lead to cloudy urine.
5. Sulfur Crystals
These crystals are mainly formed due to the administration of antibiotics. If the urine gets very high in sulfur content, it can be very harmful to the health of the kidneys. Therefore, people who have been following a course of antibiotics are advised to maintain a high fluid intake.
6. Cholesterol Crystals
Cholesterol crystals are mainly the result of a diet rich in saturated fats.
7. Triphosphate Crystals
Triphosphate crystals are formed from ammonium magnesium phosphate. They are often an indication of an infection in the urinary tract. It is also associated with a high level of urinary leukocytes.
Factors that Cause Crystals in Urine
When the body does not receive sufficient amount of water, the quantity of urine is drastically reduced. When this happens, the concentrations of some of the constituents of urine such as uric acid get radically increased. In the process, the uric acid and other substances present in urine can start to harden up, thereby leading to crystal formation. Dehydration is also one of the reasons for urine crystals in the infants.
Check: Dehydration Signs & Causes
2. Changes in the pH of Urine
Urine is supposed to be acidic and has a pH below 7. However, if there is a fluctuation in the pH, crystallization is bound to occur. Urine can either get too acidic or too alkaline. If the pH crosses 7, it means that the urine has become too alkaline in nature. Different types of crystals are formed depending on the alkalinity of urine. For example, urine that is strongly acidic can cause the occurrence of calcium oxalate crystals while strongly alkaline urine can cause calcium phosphate crystals.
3. Infection of the Urinary Tract
Infection of the urinary tract occurs as a result of the multiplication of certain strains of bacteria, thereby making the urine too acidic. Therefore, as a result of a change in the pH of urine, crystal formation takes place.
If the crystals in urine are persistent for a substantially long period, it could be due to urolithiasis, also known as bladder stones. Generally, bladder stones are very difficult to diagnose due to the extremely small size of the crystals. Therefore, it is the urine analysis that indicates the presence of bladder stones. However, if these crystals get attached to the bladder, it does cause constant pain in the abdomen.
High protein diets are one of the reasons for the formation of crystals in urine. This is because regular consumption of a diet rich in protein can drastically increase the amount of calcium as well as uric acid in urine. Furthermore, eating too much of protein on a daily basis can also increase the acidity of urine, thereby encouraging the formation of crystals.
6. Side Effects of Medications
Both the kidney and the liver is responsible for metabolizing the medicines administered to the body. If the normal functioning of these organs is disturbed due to certain medications, the chemical composition of urine can change. Furthermore, the medicines may also interact with the fluids, thereby resulting in crystal formation. Antivirals, antibiotics, anti-epileptic drugs, and diuretics are among the common drugs leading to crystallization of urine. Some of the complications include smelly urine, cloudy urine, urinary blockages and renal dysfunction. The patients may also experience a burning sensation while urinating.
Symptoms that indicate you have Crystals in Urine
There are no exact symptoms that can indicate crystalluria. However, a few the common symptoms associated with crystal formation are
- A change in the color of urine
- Change in the texture of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Urine with an unusually strong odor
- Flank pain
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Pain and Inflammation in the joints
Tests for Diagnosing Crystals in Urine
The urine crystals are very small in size and can only be seen under a microscope. Therefore, it takes a proper urine analysis to determine if you have crystallized urine. The shape, structure, and size of the crystals help in determining the exact type of crystals that have been formed in urine. If these tiny crystals grow in size, it can result in kidney stones. These stones can vary in size from grain like substances to the size of a pea and sometimes, even larger. Although this can hardly cause any serious damage, they can be very painful.
The test for diagnosing crystals in urine is known as urinalysis. The test measures the quantity of different substances in urine. Urinalysis includes a visual check of the sample as well as an examination under the microscope. The process helps in diagnosing kidney stones, understanding the problems with metabolism or how the body has been processing different food items.
During urine analysis, the patients are required to hand over the urine samples in sterile containers given during the visit to the doctor. There are also several instructions that should be followed while collecting the samples. You will first be required to wash your hands and clean the genitalia using a cleaning pad. While men should wipe the tip of the penis, women should clean the labia thoroughly from front to back. The quantity of urine should vary between one to two ounce.
The patients may be required to hand in urine samples on a periodic basis or every 24 hours for a more detailed analysis. This is because the composition of urine changes throughout the day, depending on the food that you have eaten. Before submitting the samples, it should be stored in a cool place like a cooler with ice or a refrigerator. There are no special preparations required before a urine test. Simply following the instructions for sample collection can be enough. In addition to determining the crystals, urine test also helps in the determination of proteins, white and red blood cell counts, levels of sugar and acids, yeast, bacteria and cell fragments.
Effective Treatment Methods for Crystals in Urine
Although there are some specific clinical methods for the treatment of crystalluria, making some basic changes to the daily food and fluid intake as well as taking care of the urinary health on a daily basis can help in reducing the risk for the condition. Drinking large quantities of water is found to be particularly helpful as it helps in flushing out maximum amount of wastes from the body. It is also important for people living in hot climates or those indulging in a lot of physical exercises to increase their daily fluid intake.
- The first step in treating crystalluria includes finding out the cause of the condition. This is determined by the diagnosis. In the meantime, the doctors may also advise you to make certain changes to the diet so as to maintain an optimum pH for the urine.
- The amount of protein included in the diet should be strictly monitored. Foods that have high purine content are best avoided. The patients should also reduce their intake of salty foods such as chips, pickles, fried food and so on.
- Patients should drink at least eight glasses of urine per day to avoid crystallization in urine.
Foods to Avoid if you have Crystals in Urine
1. Foods Rich in Oxalate
Oxalate is produced in the body and also supplemented to the body through a number of foods. When this accumulates in the body, its concentration in urine in naturally increased. When this happens, the risk for the development of oxalate stones is drastically increased. Oxalate crystals are also the most common contributing factor for kidney stones. Foods with a high oxalate content include concord grapes, berries, beet, chocolate, instant coffee, rhubarb, okra, spinach, peanuts, soybean crackers, wheat germ, Swiss chard, beer, sweet potato and spiced Indian tea.
2. Foods Rich in Purine
Purine is found naturally in foods. Eating high quantities of purine-rich food can trigger the formation of uric acid crystals. Some of the foods that have high purine content are organ meat, sardines, gravy, anchovies, and sweetbreads. Foods such as bacon, beef, lamb, ham, kidney beans, chicken, cauliflower, salmon, mushroom, shellfish, snapper, trout, tuna, veal, turkey, carp, asparagus, cod, crab, and venison have moderate amounts of purine. People who are suffering from crystalluria or are at high risk for the condition are advised to reduce the intake of animal-based protein and switch to vegetarian options.
3. Salty Food
Eating too much of salt can cause the body to lose too much calcium through the urine. This increases the risk for crystallized urine. In fact, it is more important to regulate the intake of calcium than regulate the intake of dietary calcium. Fast foods have high sodium content. Other food items with high sodium content include processed deli meats, potato chips, gravies, frozen entrees, canned soup, beef jerky, tortilla chips, pretzels, French fries, bullion, pickles, store-bought tomato sauce, pizza with cheese topping and seasoned bread crumbs. Sodium intake can be controlled by replacing the normal table salt with low sodium seasoning blends and natural herbs.
Due to the minute size of the crystals, crystalluria cannot be easily detected. Therefore, it is best to make the necessary changes to take precautions well in advance. If you notice any of the symptoms such as dark or cloudy urine, burning sensation while urinating, blood in urine, pain in the lower abdomen, lower back or under the rib cage, together with fever or nausea and vomiting, it is best to consult the doctor right away.