Everything to Know About Epithelial Cells In Urine

Medically Reviewed By Roger Bielinski, MD
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Epithelial cells line the inner and outer surfaces of your body. You may have a small number of epithelial cells in your urine. Having too many epithelial cells in your urine may indicate an underlying condition. Your doctor may order a urine test for epithelial cells if you have symptoms of a urinary or kidney disorder. They may request further tests or recommend treatment depending on the test results.

Read on to learn more about the types of epithelial cells and what can cause increased epithelial cells in urine. This article also discusses related conditions and treatments.

What are the types of epithelial cells?

A person is testing a urine sample.
Jovana Milanko/Stocksy United

Different types of epithelial cells line the urinary tract, namely:

  • squamous epithelial cells
  • transitional epithelial cells
  • renal tubular epithelial cells

Squamous epithelial cells

Squamous epithelial cells are long, flat cells. They line the blood vessels and cavities of the body.

The presence of squamous epithelial cells in your urine may indicate a contaminated urine sample. This happens more frequently in urine samples from females (assigned at birth) due to vaginal contamination.

Washing your genital area and avoiding touching the rim of the sample bottle can help to reduce the risk of contamination.

Transitional epithelial cells

Transitional epithelial cells line the urinary tract.

They are also called urothelium epithelial cells.

Renal tubular epithelial cells

Renal tubular epithelial cells line the outside of renal tubules in the kidneys. The renal tubules are responsible for returning fluids and nutrients to the blood.

The remaining fluid in the renal tubules turns into urine.

What causes high epithelial cells in urine?

A kidney or urinary tract problem may cause too many epithelial cells in your urine.

However, contamination of your urine sample may also show higher levels of squamous epithelial cells than usual. It is important to wash your genital area before providing a urine sample and to avoid touching the rim of the urine sample bottle.

When should I contact a doctor?

It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you experience symptoms that may signify problems with your kidneys or urinary tract.

Symptoms of urinary or kidney problems can include:

Learn more about kidney symptoms.

What is the epithelial cells urine test?

The epithelial cells urine test is a type of urinalysis where the laboratory checks your urine sample for signs of epithelial cells.

If the urine test detects more epithelial cells than usual, this may indicate a problem with your urinary tract or kidneys.

Who might need an epithelial cells urine test?

Your doctor may order an epithelial cells urine test as part of a routine checkup or if there are any concerns after a visual or chemical test of your urine sample.

You may also need to provide a urine sample to check for epithelial cells if you have signs or symptoms of urinary problems or kidney failure.

How do I prepare for the epithelial cells urine test?

You may not need to do anything special to prepare for the epithelial cells urine test. However, your doctor will advise if they have any specific requirements.

It is important that you clean your genital area before providing a urine sample. This can help prevent contamination if the sample container comes into direct contact with your genitalia, which may result in squamous epithelial cells in your urine.

If the container does not already have a label with your details, you may also need to label it with the following information:

  • your name
  • your date of birth
  • the date you are collecting the sample

If you are collecting the sample at home, the (NHS) suggests handing it in within 1 hour of collecting the sample. If you cannot do so, it is important to store the sample in a refrigerator at a temperature of around 39ºF (4ºC). Hand your sample into the clinic within 24 hours.

How do I give a urine sample?

To provide a urine sample for the epithelial cells test, your doctor will provide you with a sample container. They will either ask you to provide a sample in the clinic or coolect it at home and take it to the clinic.

To provide the sample, you should first remove the lid from the sample container and then wash your hands.

You can then collect your urine sample. Your doctor may request that you collect the “midstream urine,” which is the urine in the middle of the flow rather than the first or last part of the urine stream.

You do not need to collect enough urine to fill the container. You will typically only need to collect around 15–30 milliliters of urine.

Once you have collected the sample, ensure that the lid is secured properly on the container.

Learn more about providing a urine sample.

What do my urine test results mean?

Once they receive your test results back, your doctor may refer to the number of epithelial cells in your urine as being “few,” “moderate,” or “many” in quantity.

If you have many epithelial cells in your urine, this may indicate that something in your urinary tract or kidneys is not working as usual.

Your doctor may arrange for further tests to check for conditions such as:

Your doctor will be able to advise on which further tests they recommend.

What are the treatments for high epithelial cells in urine?

If you have many epithelial cells in your urine, treating the underlying cause can help to reduce this.

Treatments your doctor recommends will depend on your diagnosis.

Learn about the treatment options for:

Summary

Epithelial cells line the surfaces of your body. Having too few or too many renal tubular or transitional epithelial cells in your urine may indicate a kidney or urinary tract problem.

Your doctor may request an epithelial cells urine test if you have urinary symptoms or signs that something with your kidneys is not working properly. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about urinary or kidney problems. They will be able to arrange for a urine test and other tests to help them reach an accurate diagnosis.

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Medical Reviewer: Roger Bielinski, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 16
View All Kidneys and the Urinary System Articles
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