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To assess gastric acid secretion, acid output from the stomach is measured in a fasting state and after injection of a drug which stimulates gastric acid secretion.
 
Basal acid output (BAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl) secreted in the absence of any external stimuli (visual, olfactory, or auditory).
 
Maximum acid output (MAO) is the amount of hydrochloric acid secreted by the stomach following stimulation by pentagastrin. MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation.
 
Peak acid output (PAO) is calculated from the two highest consecutive 15-minute samples. It indicates greatest possible acid secretory capacity and is preferred over MAO as it is more reproducible.
 
Acidity is estimated by titration.
 
Collection of Sample
 
All drugs that affect gastric acid secretion (e.g. antacids, anticholinergics, cholinergics, H2-receptor antagonists, antihistamines, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors) should be withheld for 24 hours before the test. Proton pump inhibitors should be discontinued 5 days prior to the test. Patient should be relaxed and free from all sources of sensory stimulation.
 
Patient should drink or eat nothing after midnight.
 
Gastric juice can be aspirated through an oral or nasogastric tube (polyvinyl chloride, silicone, or polyurethane) or during endoscopy.
 
Oral or nasogastric tube (Figure 855.1) is commonly used. It is a flexible tube having a small diameter and a bulbous end that is made heavy by a small weight of lead. The end is perforated with small holes to allow entry of gastric juice into the tube. As the end is radiopaque, the tube can be positioned in the most dependent part of the stomach under fluoroscopic or X-ray guidance. The tube is lubricated and can be introduced either through the mouth or the nose. The patient is either sitting or reclining on left side. The tube has three or four markings on its outer surface that correspond with distance of the tip of the tube from the teeth, i.e. 40 cm (tip to cardioesophageal junction), 50 cm (body of stomach), 57 cm (pyloric antrum), and 65 cm (duodenum). The position of the tube can be verified either by fluoroscope or by ‘water recovery test’. In the latter test, 50 ml of water is introduced through the tube and aspirated again; recovery of > 90% of water is indicative of proper placement. The tube is usually positioned in the antrum. A syringe is attached to the outer end of the tube for the aspiration of gastric juice.
 
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryles tube
Figure 855.1 Oral or nasogastric Ryle’s tube. The tube is marked at 40, 50, 57, and 65 cm with radiopaque lines for accurate placement. The tip is bulbous and contains a small weight of lead to assist the passage during intubation and to know the position under fluoroscopy or X-ray guidance. There are four perforations or eyes to aspirate contents from the stomach through a syringe attached to the base
 
For estimation of BAO, sample is collected in the morning after 12-hour overnight fast. Gastric secretion that has accumulated overnight is aspirated and discarded. This is followed by aspiration of gastric secretions at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (i.e. total 4 consecutive samples are collected). All the samples are centrifuged to remove any particulate matter. Each 15-minute sample is analyzed for volume, pH, and acidity. The acid output in the four samples is totaled and the result is expressed as concentration of acid in milliequivalents per hour or in mmol per hour.
 
After the collection of gastric juice for determination of BAO, patient is given a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection of pentagastrin (6 μg/kg of body weight), and immediately afterwards, gastric secretions are aspirated at 15-minute intervals for 1 hour (for estimation of MAO or PAO). MAO is calculated from the first four 15-minute samples after stimulation. PAO is calculated from two consecutive 15-minute samples showing highest acidity.
 
Titration
 
Box 855.1 Determination of basal acid output, maximum acid output, and peak acid output
 
  • Basal acid output (BAO)= Total acid content in all four 15-minute basal samples in mEq/L
  • Maximum acid output (MAO) = Total acid content in all four 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples in mEq/L
  • Peak acid output (PAO) = Sum of two consecutive 15-minute post-pentagastrin samples showing highest acidity ×2 (mEq/L)
Gastric acidity is estimated by titration, with the end point being determined either by noting the change in color of the indicator solution or till the desired pH is reached.
 
In titration, a solution of alkali (0.1 N sodium hydroxide) is added from a graduated vessel (burette) to a known volume of acid (i.e. gastric juice) till the end point or equivalence point of reaction is reached. The concentration of acid is then determined from the concentration and volume of alkali required to neutralize the particular volume of gastric juice. Concentration of acid is expressed in terms of milliequivalents per liter or mmol per liter.
 
Free acidity refers to the concentration of HCl present in a free, uncombined form in a solution. The volume of alkali added to the gastric juice till the Topfer’s reagent (an indicator added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color or when the pH (as measured by the pH meter) reaches 3.5 is a measure of free acidity. A screening test can be carried out for the presence of free HCl in the gastric juice. If red color develops after addition of a drop of Topfer’s reagent to an aliquot of gastric juice, free HCl is present and the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia (achlorhydria) can be excluded.
 
Combined acidity refers to the amount of HCl combined with proteins and mucin and also includes small amount of weak acids present in gastric juice.
 
Total acidity is the sum of free and combined acidity. The amount of alkali added to the gastric juice till phenolphthalein indicator (added earlier to the gastric juice) changes color is a measure of total acidity (Box 855.1).
 
Interpretation of Results
 
  1. Volume: Normal total volume is 20-100 ml (usually < 50 ml). Causes of increased volume of gastric juice are—
    • Delayed emptying of stomach: pyloric stenosis
    • Increased gastric secretion: duodenal ulcer, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
  2. Color: Normal gastric secretion is colorless, with a faintly pungent odor. Fresh blood (due to trauma, or recent bleeding from ulcer or cancer) is red in color. Old hemorrhage produces a brown, coffee-ground like appearance (due to formation of acid hematin). Bile regurgitation produces a yellow or green color.
  3. pH: Normal pH is 1.5 to 3.5. In pernicious anemia, pH is greater than 7.0 due to absence of HCl.
  4. Basal acid output:
    • Normal: Up to 5 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 5-15 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: >20 mEq/hour.
    Normal BAO is seen in gastric ulcer and in some patients with duodenal ulcer.
  5. Peak acid output:
    • Normal: 1-20 mEq/hour.
    • Duodenal ulcer: 20-60 mEq/hour.
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 60 mEq/hour.
    • Achlorhydria: 0 mEq/hour.
    Normal PAO is seen in gastric ulcer and gastric carcinoma. Values up to 60 mEq/hour can occur in some normal individuals and in some patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
    In pernicious anemia, there is no acid output due to gastric mucosal atrophy. Achlorhydria should be diagnosed only if there is no free HCl even after maximum stimulation.
  6. Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output (BAO/PAO):
    • Normal: < 0.20 (or < 20%).
    • Gastric or duodenal ulcer: 0.20-0.40 (20-40%).
    • Duodenal ulcer: 0.40-0.60 (40-60%).
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: > 0.60 (> 60%).
    Normal values occur in gastric ulcer or gastric carcinoma.
 
Conditions associated with change in gastric acid output are listed in Table 855.1.
 
It is to be noted that values of acid output are not diagnostic by themselves and should be correlated with clinical, radiological, and endoscopic features.
 
Table 855.1 Causes of alterations in gastric acid output
Increased gastric acid output Decreased gastric acid output
• Duodenal ulcer Chronic atrophic gastritis
• Zollinger-Ellison syndrome     1. Pernicious anemia
Hyperplasia of antral G cells     2. Rheumatoid arthritis
Systemic mastocytosis     3. Thyrotoxicosis
• Basophilic leukemia • Gastric ulcer
  • Gastric carcinoma
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Post-vagotomy
  • Post-antrectomy

Bioethics

  • 04 Sep 2017
Bioethics is the study of the ethical issues emerging from advances in biology and medicine. It is also moral discernment as it relates to medical policy and practice. Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy. It includes the study of values ("the ethics of the ordinary") relating to primary care and other branches of medicine.
Animal biotechnology is a branch of biotechnology in which molecular biology techniques are used to genetically engineer (i.e. modify the genome of) animals in order to improve their suitability for pharmaceutical, agricultural or industrial applications. Animal biotechnology has been used to produce genetically modified animals that synthesize therapeutic proteins, have improved growth rates or are resistant to disease.

Biophysics

  • 04 Sep 2017
Biophysics or biological physics is an interdisciplinary science that applies the approaches and methods of physics to study biological systems. Biophysics covers all scales of biological organization, from molecular to organismic and populations. Biophysical research shares significant overlap with biochemistry, physical chemistry, nanotechnology, bioengineering, computational biology, biomechanics and systems biology.
 
The term biophysics was originally introduced by Karl Pearson in 1892.

Histopathology

  • 04 Sep 2017
Histopathology (compound of three Greek words: ἱστός histos "tissue", πάθος pathos "suffering", and -λογία -logia"study of") refers to the microscopic examination of tissue in order to study the manifestations of disease. Specifically, in clinical medicine, histopathology refers to the examination of a biopsy or surgical specimen by a pathologist, after the specimen has been processed and histological sections have been placed onto glass slides. In contrast, cytopathology examines (1) free cells or (2) tissue micro-fragments (as "cell blocks").

Physiology

  • 04 Sep 2017
Physiology (/ˌfɪziˈɒləi/; from Ancient Greek φύσις (physis), meaning 'nature, origin', and -λογία (-logia), meaning 'study of') is the scientific study of normal mechanisms, and their interactions, which works within a living system. A sub-discipline of biology, its focus is in how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and biomolecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. Given the size of the field, it is divided into, among others, animal physiology (including that of humans), plant physiology, cellular physiology, microbial physiology (microbial metabolism), bacterial physiology, and viral physiology.
 
Central to an understanding of physiological functioning is its integrated nature with other disciplines such as chemistry and physics, coordinated homeostatic control mechanisms, and continuous communication between cells.
 
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to those who make significant achievements in this discipline by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In medicine, a physiologic state is one occurring from normal body function, rather than pathologically, which is centered on the abnormalities that occur in animal diseases, including humans.

Food Science

  • 04 Sep 2017
Food science is the applied science devoted to the study of food. The Institute of Food Technologists defines food science as "the discipline in which the engineering, biological, and physical sciences are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of deterioration, the principles underlying food processing, and the improvement of foods for the consuming public". The textbook Food Science defines food science in simpler terms as "the application of basic sciences and engineering to study the physical, chemical, and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing".

Ecology

  • 04 Sep 2017
Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house", or "environment"; -λογία, "study of") is the scientific analysis and study of interactions among organisms and their environment. It is an interdisciplinary field that includes biology, geography, and Earth science. Ecology includes the study of interactions that organisms have with each other, other organisms, and with abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest to ecologists include the diversity, distribution, amount (biomass), and number (population) of particular organisms, as well as cooperation and competition between organisms, both within and among ecosystems. Ecosystems are composed of dynamically interacting parts including organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and various niche construction activities, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits, and the variety of organisms is called biodiversity. Biodiversity, which refers to the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.
 
Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It is closely related to evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An important focus for ecologists is to improve the understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function. Ecologists seek to explain:
 
  • Life processes, interactions, and adaptations
  • The movement of materials and energy through living communities
  • The successional development of ecosystems
  • The abundance and distribution of organisms and biodiversity in the context of the environment.
 
There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management(agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber, and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.
 
The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology became a much more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts relating to adaptation and natural selection became the cornerstones of modern ecological theory.

Forensic Science

  • 04 Sep 2017
Forensic science is the application of science to criminal and civil laws, mainly—on the criminal side—during criminal investigation, as governed by the legal standards of admissible evidence and criminal procedure.
 
Forensic scientists collect, preserve, and analyze scientific evidence during the course of an investigation. While some forensic scientists travel to the scene of the crime to collect the evidence themselves, others occupy a laboratory role, performing analysis on objects brought to them by other individuals.
 
In addition to their laboratory role, forensic scientists testify as expert witnesses in both criminal and civil cases and can work for either the prosecution or the defense. While any field could technically be forensic, certain sections have developed over time to encompass the majority of forensically related cases.

Microscopic examinations done on fecal sample are shown in Figure 846.1.

Collection of Specimen for Parasites

A random specimen of stool (at least 4 ml or 4 cm³) is collected in a clean, dry, container with a tightly fitting lid (a tin box, plastic box, glass jar, or waxed cardboard box) and transported immediately to the laboratory (this is because trophozoites of Entameba histolytica rapidly degenerate and alter in morphology). About 20-40 grams of formed stool or 5-6 tablespoons of watery stool should be collected. Stool should not be contaminated with urine, water, soil, or menstrual blood. Urine and water destroy trophozoites; soil will introduce extraneous organisms and also hinder proper examination. Parasites are best detected in warm, freshly passed stools and therefore stools should be examined as early as possible after receipt in the laboratory (preferably within 1 hour of collection). If delay in examination is anticipated, sample may be refrigerated. A fixative containing 10% formalin (for preservation of eggs, larvae, and cysts) or polyvinyl alcohol (for preservation of trophozoites and cysts, and for permanent staining) may be used if specimen is to be transported to a distant laboratory.

Figure 846.1 Microscopic examinations carried out on fecal sample
Figure 846.1 Microscopic examinations carried out on fecal sample

One negative report for ova and parasites does not exclude the possibility of infection. Three separate samples, collected at 3-day intervals, have been recommended to detect all parasite infections.

Patient should not be receiving oily laxatives, antidiarrheal medications, bismuth, antibiotics like tetracycline, or antacids for 7 days before stool examination. Patient should not have undergone a barium swallow examination.

In the laboratory, macroscopic examination is done for consistency (watery, loose, soft or formed) (Figure 846.2), color, odor, and presence of blood, mucus, adult worms or segments of tapeworms.

Figure 846.2 Consistency of feces
Figure 846.2 Consistency of feces

Trophozoites are most likely to be found in loose or watery stools or in stools containing blood and mucus, while cysts are likely to be found in formed stools. Trophozoites die soon after being passed and therefore such stools should be examined within 1 hour of passing. Examination of formed stools can be delayed but should be completed on the same day.

Color/Appearance of Fecal Specimens

  • Brown: Normal
  • Black: Bleeding in upper gastrointestinal tract (proximal to cecum), Drugs (iron salts, bismuth salts, charcoal)
  • Red: Bleeeding in large intestine, undigested tomatoes or beets
  • Clay-colored (gray-white): Biliary obstruction
  • Silvery: Carcinoma of ampulla of Vater
  • Watery: Certain strains of Escherichia coli, Rotavirus enteritis, cryptosporidiosis
  • Rice water: Cholera
  • Unformed with blood and mucus: Amebiasis, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Unformed with blood, mucus, and pus: Bacillary dysentery
  • Unformed, frothy, foul smelling, which float on water: Steatorrhea.

Preparation of Slides

After receipt in the laboratory, saline and iodine wet mounts of the sample are prepared (Figure 846.3).

Figure 846.3 Saline and iodine wet mounts of fecal sample
Figure 846.3 Saline and iodine wet mounts of fecal sample

A drop of normal saline is placed near one end of a glass slide and a drop of Lugol iodine solution is placed near the other end. A small amount of feces (about the size of a match-head) is mixed with a drop each of saline and iodine using a wire loop, and a cover slip is placed over each preparation separately. If the specimen contains blood or mucus, that portion should be included for examination (trophozoites are more readily found in mucus). If the stools are liquid, select the portion from the surface for examination.

Saline wet mount is used for demonstration of eggs and larvae of helminths, and trophozoites and cysts of protozoa. It can also detect red cells and white cells. Iodine stains glycogen and nuclei of the cysts. The iodine wet mount is useful for identification of protozoal cysts. Trophozoites become non-motile in iodine mounts. A liquid, diarrheal stool can be examined directly without adding saline.

Concentration Procedure

Concentration of fecal specimen is useful if very small numbers of parasites are present. However, in concentrated specimens, amebic trophozoites can no longer be detected since they are destroyed. If wet mount examination is negative and there is clinical suspicion of parasitic infection, fecal concentration is indicated. It is used for detection of ova, cysts, and larvae of parasites.

Various concentration methods are available; the choice depends on the nature of parasites to be identified and the equipment/reagent available in a particular laboratory. Concentration techniques are of two main types:

  • Sedimentation techniques: Ova and cysts settle at the bottom. However, excessive fecal debris may make the detection of parasites difficult. Example: Formolethyl acetate sedimentation procedure.
  • Floatation techniques: Ova and cysts float on surface. However, some ova and cysts do not float at the top in this procedure. Examples: Saturated salt floatation technique and zinc sulphate concentration technique.

The most commonly used sedimentation method is formol-ethyl acetate concentration method since: (i) it can detect eggs and larvae of almost all helminths, and cysts of protozoa, (ii) it preserves their morphology well, (iii) it is rapid, and (iv) risk of infection to the laboratory worker is minimal because pathogens are killed by formalin.

In this method, fecal suspension is prepared in 10% formalin (10 ml formalin + 1 gram feces). This suspension is then passed through a gauze filter till 7 ml of filtered material is obtained. To this, ethyl acetate (3 ml) is added and the mixture is centrifuged for 1 minute. Eggs, larvae, and cysts sediment at the bottom of the centrifuge tube (Figure 846.4). Above this deposit, there are layers of formalin, fecal debris, and ether. Fecal debris is loosened with an applicator stick and the supernatant is poured off. One drop of sediment is placed on one end of a glass slide and one drop is placed at the other end. One of the drops is stained with iodine, cover slips are placed, and the preparation is examined under the microscope.

Figure 846.4 Formol ethyl acetate concentration technique
Figure 846.4 Formol-ethyl acetate concentration technique

Classification of Intestinal Parasites of Humans

Intestinal parasites of humans are classified into two main kingdoms: protozoa and metazoa (helminths) (Figure 846.5).

Figure 846.5 Classification of intestinal parasites of humans
Figure 846.5 Classification of intestinal parasites of humans

Chemical examination of feces is usually carried out for the following tests (Figure 845.1):

  • Occult blood
  • Excess fat excretion (malabsorption)
  • Urobilinogen
  • Reducing sugars
  • Fecal osmotic gap
  • Fecal pH
Figure 845.17 Chemical examinations done on fecal sample
Figure 845.1 Chemical examinations done on fecal sample

Test for Occult Blood in Stools

Presence of blood in feces which is not apparent on gross inspection and which can be detected only by chemical tests is called as occult blood. Causes of occult blood in stools are:

  1. Intestinal diseases: hookworms, amebiasis, typhoid fever, ulcerative colitis, intussusception, adenoma, cancer of colon or rectum.
  2. Gastric and esophageal diseases: peptic ulcer, gastritis, esophageal varices, hiatus hernia.
  3. Systemic disorders: bleeding diathesis, uremia.
  4. Long distance runners.

Occult blood test is recommended as a screening procedure for detection of asymptomatic colorectal cancer. Yearly examinations should be carried out after the age of 50 years. If the test is positive, endoscopy and barium enema are indicated.

Tests for detection of occult blood in feces: Many tests are available which differ in their specificity and sensitivity. These tests include tests based on peroxidase-like activity of hemoglobin (benzidine, orthotolidine, aminophenazone, guaiac), immunochemical tests, and radioisotope tests.

Tests Based on Peroxidase-like Activity of Hemoglobin

Principle: Hemoglobin has peroxidase-like activity and releases oxygen from hydrogen peroxide. Oxygen molecule then oxidizes the chemical reagent (benzidine, orthotolidine, aminophenazone, or guaiac) to produce a colored reaction product.

Benzidine and orthotolidine are carcinogenic and are no longer used. Benzidine test is also highly sensitive and false-positive reactions are common. Since bleeding from the lesion may be intermittent, repeated testing may be required.

Causes of False-positive Tests

  1. Ingestion of peroxidase-containing foods like red meat, fish, poultry, turnips, horseradish, cauliflower, spinach, or cucumber. Diet should be free from peroxidase-containing foods for at least 3 days prior to testing.
  2. Drugs like aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which increase blood loss from gastrointestinal tract in normal persons.

Causes of False-negative Tests

  1. Foods containing large amounts of vitamin C.
  2. Conversion of all hemoglobin to acid hematin (which has no peroxidase-like activity) during passage through the gastrointestinal tract.

Immunochemical Tests

These tests specifically detect human hemoglobin. Therefore there is no interference from animal hemoglobin or myoglobin (e.g. meat) or peroxidase-containing vegetables in the diet.

The test consists of mixing the sample with latex particles coated with anti-human haemoglobin antibody, and if agglutination occurs, test is positive. This test can detect 0.6 ml of blood per 100 grams of feces.

Radioisotope Test Using 51Cr

In this test, 10 ml of patient’s blood is withdrawn, labeled with 51Cr, and re-infused intravenously. Radioactivity is measured in fecal sample and in simultaneously collected blood specimen. Radioactivity in feces indicates gastrointestinal bleeding. Amount of blood loss can be calculated. Although the test is sensitive, it is not suitable for routine screening.

Apt test: This test is done to decide whether blood in the vomitus or in the feces of a neonate represents swallowed maternal blood or is the result of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. The test was devised by Dr. Apt and hence the name. The baby swallows blood during delivery or during breastfeeding if nipples are cracked. Apt test is based on the principle that if blood is of neonatal origin it will contain high proportion of hemoglobin F (Hb F) that is resistant to alkali denaturation. On the other hand, maternal blood mostly contains adult hemoglobin or Hb A that is less resistant.

Test for Malabsorption of Fat

Dietary fat is absorbed in the small intestine with the help of bile salts and pancreatic lipase. Fecal fat mainly consists of neutral fats (unsplit fats), fatty acids, and soaps (fatty acid salts). Normally very little fat is excreted in feces (<7 grams/day in adults). Excess excretion of fecal fat indicates malabsorption and is known as steatorrhea. It manifests as bulky, frothy, and foul-smelling stools, which float on the surface of water.

Causes of Malabsorption of Fat

  1. Deficiency of pancreatic lipase (insufficient lipolysis): chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis.
  2. Deficiency of bile salts (insufficient emulsification of fat): biliary obstruction, severe liver disease, bile salt deconjugation due to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
  3. Diseases of small intestine: tropical sprue, celiac disease, Whipple’s disease.

Tests for fecal fat are qualitative (i.e. direct microscopic examination after fat staining), and quantitative (i.e. estimation of fat by gravimetric or titrimetric analysis).

  1. Microscopic stool examination after staining for fat: A random specimen of stool is collected after putting the patient on a diet of >80 gm fat per day. Stool sample is stained with a fat stain (oil red O, Sudan III, or Sudan IV) and observed under the microscope for fat globules (Figure 845.2). Presence of ≥60 fat droplets/HPF indicates steatorrhea. Ingestion of mineral or castor oil and use of rectal suppositories can cause problems in interpretation.
  2. Quantitative estimation of fecal fat: The definitive test for diagnosis of fat malabsorption is quantitation of fecal fat. Patient should be on a diet of 70-100 gm of fat per day for 6 days before the test. Feces are collected over 72 hours and stored in a refrigerator during the collection period. Specimen should not be contaminated with urine. Fat quantitation can be done by gravimetric or titrimetric method. In gravimetric method, an accurately weighed sample of feces is emulsified, acidified, and fat is extracted in a solvent; after evaporation of solvent, fat is weighed as a pure compound. Titrimetric analysis is the most widely used method. An accurately weighed stool sample is treated with alcoholic potassium hydroxide to convert fat into soaps. Soaps are then converted to fatty acids by the addition of hydrochloric acid. Fatty acids are extracted in a solvent and the solvent is evaporated. The solution of fat made in neutral alcohol is then titrated against sodium hydroxide. Fatty acids comprise about 80% of fecal fat. Values >7 grams/day are usually abnormal. Values >14 grams/day are specific for diseases causing fat malabsorption.
Figure 845.2 Sudan stain on fecal sample
Figure 845.2 Sudan stain on fecal sample: (A) Negative; (B) Positive

Test for Urobilinogen in Feces

Fecal urobilinogen is determined by Ehrlich’s aldehyde test (see  Article “Test for Detection of Urobilinogen in Urine). Specimen should be fresh and kept protected from light. Normal amount of urobilinogen excreted in feces is 50-300 mg per day. Increased fecal excretion of urobilinogen is seen in hemolytic anemia. Urobilinogen is deceased in biliary tract obstruction, severe liver disease, oral antibiotic therapy (disturbance of intestinal bacterial flora), and aplastic anemia (low hemoglobin turnover). Stools become pale or clay-colored if urobilinogen is reduced or absent.

Test for Reducing Sugars

Deficiency of intestinal enzyme lactase is a common cause of malabsorption. Lactase converts lactose (in milk) to glucose and galactose. If lactase is deficient, lactose is converted to lactic acid with production of gas. In infants this leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and failure to thrive. Benedict’s test or Clinitest™ tablet test for reducing sugars is used to test freshly collected stool sample for lactose. In addition, oral lactose tolerance test is abnormal (after oral lactose, blood glucose fails to rise above 20 mg/dl of basal value) in lactase deficiency. Rise in blood glucose indicates that lactose has been hydrolysed and absorbed by the mucosa. Lactose tolerance test is now replaced by lactose breath hydrogen testing. In lactase deficiency, accumulated lactose in the colon is rapidly fermented to organic acids and gases like hydrogen. Hydrogen is absorbed and then excreted through the lungs into the breath. Amount of hydrogen is then measured in breath; breath hydrogen more than 20 ppm above baseline within 4 hours indicates positive test.

Fecal Osmotic Gap

Fecal osmotic gap is calculated from concentration of electrolytes in stool water by formula 290-2([Na+] + [K+]). (290 is the assumed plasma osmolality). In osmotic diarrheas, osmotic gap is >150 mOsm/kg, while in secretory diarrhea, it is typically below 50 mOsm/kg. Evaluation of chronic diarrhea is shown in Figure 845.3.

Figure 845.3 Evaluation of chronic diarrhea
Figure 845.3 Evaluation of chronic diarrhea

Fecal pH

Stool pH below 5.6 is characteristic of carbohydrate malabsorption.

Tests to Assess Proximal Tubular Function
 
Renal tubules efficiently reabsorb 99% of the glomerular filtrate to conserve the essential substances like glucose, amino acids, and water.
 
1. Glycosuria: In renal glycosuria, glucose is excreted in urine, while blood glucose level is normal. This is because of a specific tubular lesion which leads to impairment of glucose reabsorption. Renal glycosuria is a benign condition. Glycosuria can also occur in Fanconi syndrome.
 
2. Generalized aminoaciduria: In proximal renal tubular dysfunction, many amino acids are excreted in urine due to defective tubular reabsorption.
 
3. Tubular proteinuria (Low molecular weight proteinuria): Normally, low molecular weight proteins2 –microglobulin, retinol-binding protein, lysozyme, and α1 –microglobulin) are freely filtered by glomeruli and are completely reabsorbed by proximal renal tubules. With tubular damage, these low molecular weight proteins are excreted in urine and can be detected by urine protein electrophoresis. Increased amounts of these proteins in urine are indicative of renal tubular damage.
 
4. Urinary concentration of sodium: If both BUN and serum creatinine are acutely increased, it is necessary to distinguish between prerenal azotemia (renal underperfusion) and acute tubular necrosis. In prerenal azotemia, renal tubules are functioning normally and reabsorb sodium, while in acute tubular necrosis, tubular function is impaired and sodium absorption is decreased. Therefore, in prerenal azotemia, urinay sodium concentration is < 20 mEq/L while in acute tubular necrosis, it is > 20 mEq/L.
 
5. Fractional excretion of sodium (FENa): Measurement of urinary sodium concentration is affected by urine volume and can produce misleading results. Therefore, to avoid this, fractional excretion of sodium is calculated. This refers to the percentage of filtered sodium that has been absorbed and percentage that has been excreted. Measurement of fractional sodium excretion is a better indicator of tubular absorption of sodium than quantitation of urine sodium alone.
 
This test is indicated in acute renal failure. In oliguric patients, this is the most reliable means of early distinction between pre-renal failure and renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis. It is calculated from the following formula:
 
 
(Urine sodium × Plasma creatinine) × 100%
(Plasma sodium × Urine creatinine)
 
 
In pre-renal failure this ratio is less than 1%, and in acute tubular necrosis it is more than 1%. In pre-renal failure (due to reduced renal perfusion), aldosterone secretion is stimulated which causes maximal sodium conservation by the tubules and the ratio is less than 1%. In acute tubular necrosis, maximum sodium reabsorption is not possible due to tubular cell injury and consequently the ratio will be more than 1%. Values above 3% are strongly suggestive of acute tubular necrosis.
 
Tests to Assess Distal Tubular Function
 
1. Urine specific gravity: Normal specific gravity is 1.003 to 1.030. It depends on state of hydration and fluid intake.
 
  1. Causes of increased specific gravity:
    a. Reduced renal perfusion (with preservation of concentrating ability of tubules),
    b. Proteinuria,
    c. Glycosuria,
    d. Glomerulonephritis.
    e. Urinary tract obstruction.
  2. Causes of reduced specific gravity:
    a. Diabetes insipidus
    b. Chronic renal failure
    c. Impaired concentrating ability due to diseases of tubules.
 
As a test of renal function, it gives information about the ability of renal tubules to concentrate the glomerular filtrate. This concentrating ability is lost in diseases of renal tubules.
 
Fixed specific gravity of 1.010, which cannot be lowered or increased by increasing or decreasing the fluid intake respectively, is an indication of chronic renal failure.
 
2. Urine osmolality: The most commonly employed test to evaluate tubular function is measurement of urine/plasma osmolality. This is the most sensitive method for determination of ability of concentration. Osmolality measures number of dissolved particles in a solution. Specific gravity, on the other hand, is the ratio of mass of a solution to the mass of water i.e. it measures total mass of solute. Specific gravity depends on both the number and the nature of dissolved particles while osmolality is exact number of solute particles in a solution. Specific gravity measurement can be affected by the presence of solutes of large molecular weight like proteins and glucose, while osmolality is not. Therefore measurement of osmolality is preferred.
 
When solutes are dissolved in a solvent, certain changes take place like lowering of freezing point, increase in boiling point, decrease in vapor pressure, or increase of osmotic pressure of the solvent. These properties are made use of in measuring osmolality by an instrument called as osmometer.
 
Osmolality is expressed as milliOsmol/kg of water.
 
Urine/plasma osmolality ratio is helpful in distinguishing pre-renal azotemia (in which ratio is higher) from acute renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis (in which ratio is lower). If urine and plasma osmolality are almost similar, then there is defective tubular reabsorption of water.
 
3. Water deprivation test: If the value of baseline osmolality of urine is inconclusive, then water deprivation test is performed. In this test, water intake is restricted for a specified period of time followed by measurement of specific gravity or osmolality. Normally, urine osmolality should rise in response to water deprivation. If it fails to rise, then desmopressin is administered to differentiate between central diabetes insipidus and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Urinary concentration ability is corrected after administration of desmopressin in central diabetes insipidus, but not in nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.
 
If urine osmolality is > 800 mOsm/kg of water or specific gravity is ≥1.025 following dehydration, concentrating ability of renal tubules is normal. However, normal result does not rule out presence of renal disease.
False result will be obtained if the patient is on low-salt, low-protein diet or is suffering from major electrolyte and water disturbance.
 
4. Water loading antidiuretic hormone suppression test: This test assesses the capacity of the kidney to make urine dilute after water loading.
 
After overnight fast, patient empties the bladder and drinks 20 ml/kg of water in 15-30 minutes. The urine is collected at hourly intervals for the next 4 hours for measurements of urine volume, specific gravity, and osmolality. Plasma levels of antidiuretic hormone and serum osmolality should be measured at hourly intervals.
 
Normally, more than 90% of water should be excreted in 4 hours. The specific gravity should fall to 1.003 and osmolality should fall to < 100 mOsm/kg. Plasma level of antidiuretic hormone should be appropriate for serum osmolality. In renal function impairment, urine volume is reduced (<80% of fluid intake is excreted) and specific gravity and osmolality fail to decrease. The test is also impaired in adrenocortical insufficiency, malabsorption, obesity, ascites, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, and dehydration.
 
This test is not advisable in patients with cardiac failure or kidney disease. If there is failure to excrete water load, fatal hyponatremia can occur.
 
5. Ammonium chloride loading test (Acid load test): Diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is usually considered after excluding other causes of metabolic acidosis. This test is considered as a ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of distal or type 1 renal tubular acidosis. Urine pH and plasma bicarbonate are measured after overnight fasting. If pH is less than 5.4, acidifying ability of renal tubules is normal. If pH is greater than 5.4 and plasma bicarbonate is low, diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is confirmed. In both the above cases, further testing need not be performed. In all other cases in which neither of above results is obtained, further testing is carried out. Patient is given ammonium chloride orally (0.1 gm/kg) over 1 hour after overnight fast and urine samples are collected hourly for next 6-8 hours. Ammonium ion dissociates into H+ and NH3. Ammonium chloride makes blood acidic. If pH is less than 5.4 in any one of the samples, acidifying ability of the distal tubules is normal.
Normally, a very small amount of albumin is excreted in urine. The earliest evidence of glomerular damage in diabetes mellitus is occurrence of microalbuminuria (albuminuria in the range of 30 to 300 mg/24 hours). An albuminuria > 300-mg/24 hour is termed clinical or overt and indicates significant glomerular damage. (See “Proteinuria” under Article “Chemical Examination of Urine”).
Two biochemical parameters are commonly used to assess renal function: blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine. Although convenient, they are insensitive markers of glomerular function.
 
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
 
Urea is produced in the liver from amino acids (ingested or tissue-derived). Amino acids are utilized to produce energy, synthesize proteins, and are catabolized to ammonia. Urea is produced in the liver from ammonia in the Krebs urea cycle. Ammonia is toxic and hence is converted to urea, which is then excreted in urine (Figure 842.1).
 
Figure 842.1 Formation of urea from protein breakdown
Figure 842.1 Formation of urea from protein breakdown 
 
The concentration of blood urea is usually expressed as blood urea nitrogen. This is because older methods estimated only the nitrogen in urea. Molecular weight of urea is 60, and 28 grams of nitrogen are present in a gm mole of urea. As the relationship between urea and BUN is 60/28, BUN can be converted to urea by multiplying BUN by 2.14, i.e. the real concentration of urea is BUN × (60/28).
 
Urea is completely filtered by the glomeruli, and about 30-40% of the filtered amount is reabsorbed in the renal tubules depending on the person’s state of hydration.
 
Blood level of urea is affected by a number of non-renal factors (e.g. high protein diet, upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage, liver function, etc.) and therefore utility of BUN as an indicator of renal function is limited. Also considerable destruction of renal parenchyma is required before elevation of blood urea can occur.
 
The term azotemia refers to the increase in the blood level of urea; uremia is the clinical syndrome resulting from this increase. If renal function is absent, BUN rises by 10-20 mg/dl/day.
 
Causes of increased BUN:
 
  1. Pre-renal azotemia: shock, congestive heart failure, salt and water depletion
  2. Renal azotemia: impairment of renal function
  3. Post-renal azotemia: obstruction of urinary tract
  4. Increased rate of production of urea:
    • High protein diet
    • Increased protein catabolism (trauma, burns, fever)
    • Absorption of amino acids and peptides from a large gastrointestinal hemorrhage or tissue hematoma
 
Methods for estimation of BUN:
 
Two methods are commonly used.
 
  1. Diacetyl monoxime urea method: This is a direct method. Urea reacts with diacetyl monoxime at high temperature in the presence of a strong acid and an oxidizing agent. Reaction of urea and diacetyl monoxime produces a yellow diazine derivative. The intensity of color is measured in a colorimeter or spectrophotometer.
  2. Urease- Berthelot reaction: This is an indirect method. Enzyme urease splits off ammonia from the urea molecule at 37°C. Ammonia generated is then reacted with alkaline hypochlorite and phenol with a catalyst to produce a stable color (indophenol). Intensity of color produced is then measured in a spectrophotometer at 570 nm.
 
Reference range for BUN in adults is 7-18 mg/dl. In adults > 60 years, level is 8-21 mg/dl.
 
Serum Creatinine
 
Creatinine is a nitrogenous waste product formed in muscle from creatine phosphate. Endogenous production of creatinine is proportional to muscle mass and body weight. Exogenous creatinine (from ingestion of meat) has little effect on daily creatinine excretion.
 
Serum creatinine is a more specific and more sensitive indicator of renal function as compared to BUN because:
 
  • It is produced from muscles at a constant rate and its level in blood is not affected by diet, protein catabolism, or other exogenous factors;
  • It is not reabsorbed, and very little is secreted by tubules.
 
With muscle mass remaining constant, increased creatinine level reflects reduction of glomerular filtration rate. However, because of significant kidney reserve, increase of serum creatinine level (from 1.0 mg/dl to 2.0 mg/dl) in blood does not occur until about 50% of kidney function is lost. Therefore, serum creatinine is not a sensitive indicator of early renal impairment. Also, laboratory report showing serum creatinine “within normal range” does not necessarily mean that the level is normal; the level should be correlated with body weight, age, and sex of the individual. If renal function is absent, serum creatinine rises by 1.0 to 1.5 mg/dl/day (Figure 842.2).
 
Figure 842.2 Relationship between glomerular filtration rate and serum creatinine
Figure 842.2 Relationship between glomerular filtration rate and serum creatinine. Significant increase of serum creatinine does not occur till a considerable fall in GFR

Causes of Increased Serum Creatinine Level
 
  1. Pre-renal, renal, and post-renal azotemia
  2. Large amount of dietary meat
  3. Active acromegaly and gigantism
 
Causes of Decreased Serum Creatinine Level
 
  1. Pregnancy
  2. Increasing age (reduction in muscle mass)
 
Methods for Estimation of Serum Creatinine
 
The test for serum creatinine is cheap, readily available, and simple to perform. There are two methods that are commonly used:
 
  1. Jaffe’s reaction (Alkaline picrate reaction): This is the most widely used method. Creatinine reacts with picrate in an alkaline solution to produce spectrophotometer at 485 nm. Certain substances in plasma (such as glucose, protein, fructose, ascorbic acid, acetoacetate, acetone, and cephalosporins) react with picrate in a similar manner; these are called as non-creatinine chromogens (and can cause false elevation of serum creatinine level). Thus ‘true’ creatinine is less by 0.2 to 0.4 mg/dl when estimated by Jaffe’s reaction.
  2. Enzymatic methods: These methods use enzymes that cleave creatinine; hydrogen peroxide produced then reacts with phenol and a dye to produce a colored product, which is measured in a spectrophotometer.
 
Reference range:
 
Adult males: 0.7-1.3 mg/dl.
Adult females: 0.6-1.1 mg/dl.
 
Serum creatinine alone should not be used to assess renal function. This is because serum creatinine concentration depends on age, sex, muscle mass, glomerular filtration and amount of tubular secretion. Thus, normal serum creatinine range is wide. Serum creatinine begins to rise when GFR falls below 50% of normal. Minor rise of serum creatinine is associated with significant reduction of GFR (Figure 842.2). Therefore early stage of chronic renal impairment cannot be detected by measurement of serum creatinine alone.
 
BUN/Serum Creatinine Ratio
 
Clinicians commonly calculate BUN/creatinine ratio to discriminate pre-renal and post-renal azotemia from renal azotemia. Normal ratio is 12:1 to 20:1.
 
Causes of Increased BUN/Creatinine Ratio (>20:1):
 
  1. Increased BUN with normal serum creatinine:
    • Pre-renal azotemia (reduced renal perfusion)
    • High protein diet
    • Increased protein catabolism
    • Gastrointestinal hemorrhage
  2. Increase of both BUN and serum creatinine with disproportionately greater increase of BUN:
    • Post-renal azotemia (Obstruction to the outflow of urine)
    Obstruction to the urine outflow causes diffusion of urinary urea back into the blood from tubules because of backpressure.

Causes of Decreased BUN/Creatinine Ratio (<10:1)
 
  • Acute tubular necrosis
  • Low protein diet, starvation
  • Severe liver disease
One can estimate GFR from age, sex, body weight, and serum creatinine value of a person from the following formula (Cockcroft and Gault):
 
 
Creatinine clearance in ml/min = (140 - Age in years) × (Body weight in kg)
                                                              (72 × Serum creatinine in mg/dl)
 
 
In females, the value obtained from above equation is multiplied by 0.85 to get the result.
 
It is recommended by National Kidney Foundation (USA) to calculate creatinine clearance by Cockcroft and Gault or other equation from serum creatinine value rather than estimating creatinine clearance from a 24-hour urine sample. This is because the latter test is inconvenient, time-consuming, and often inaccurate.
Glomerular filtration rate refers to the rate in ml/min at which a substance is cleared from the circulation by the glomeruli. The ability of the glomeruli to filter a substance from the blood is assessed by clearance studies. If a substance is not bound to protein in plasma, is completely filtered by the glomeruli, and is neither secreted nor reabsorbed by the tubules, then its clearance rate is equal to the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Clearance of a substance refers to the volume of plasma, which is completely cleared of that substance per minute; it is calculated from the following formula:
 
Clearance = UV
                      P
 
where, U = concentration of a substance in urine in mg/dl; V = volume of urine excreted in ml/min; and P = concentration of the substance in plasma in mg/dl. Since U and P are in the same units, they cancel each other and the clearance value is expressed in the same unit as V i.e. ml/min. All clearance values are adjusted to a standard body surface area i.e. 1.73 m2.

The agents used for measurement of GFR are:
 
  • Exogenous: Inulin, Radiolabelled ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (51Cr- EDTA), 125I-iothalamate
  • Endogenous: Creatinine, Urea, Cystatin C
 
The agent used for measurement of GFR should have following properties: (1) It should be physiologically inert and preferably endogenous, (2) It should be freely filtered by glomeruli and should be neither reabsorbed nor secreted by renal tubules, (3) It should not bind to plasma proteins and should not be metabolized by kidneys, and (4) It should be excreted only by the kidneys. However, there is no such ideal endogenous agent.
 
Clearance tests are cumbersome to perform, expensive, and not readily available. One major problem with clearance studies is incomplete urine collection.
 
Abnormal clearance occurs in: (i) pre-renal factors: reduced blood flow due to shock, dehydration, and congestive cardiac failure; (ii) renal diseases; and (iii) obstruction to urinary outflow.
 
Inulin Clearance
 
Inulin, an inert plant polysaccharide (a fructose polymer), is filtered by the glomeruli and is neither reabsorbed nor secreted by the tubules; therefore it is an ideal agent for measuring GFR. A bolus dose of inulin (25 ml of 10% solution IV) is administered followed by constant intravenous infusion (500 ml of 1.5% solution at the rate of 4 ml/min). Timed urine samples are collected and blood samples are obtained at the midpoint of timed urine collection. This test is considered as the ‘gold standard’ (or reference method) for estimation of GFR. However, this test is rarely used because it is time consuming, expensive, constant intravenous infusion of inulin is needed to maintain steady plasma level, and difficulties in laboratory analysis. Average inulin clearance for males is 125 ml/min/1.73 m2 and for females is 110 ml/min/1.73 m2. In children less than 2 years and in older adults, clearance is low. This test is largely limited to clinical research.
 
Clearance of Radiolabeled Agents
 
Urinary clearance of radiolabeled iothalamate (125Iiothalamate) correlates closely with inulin clearance. However, this method is expensive with risk of exposure to radioactive substances. Other radiolabelled substances used are 51Cr-EDTA and 99Tc-DTPA.
 
Cystatin C Clearance
 
This is a cysteine protease inhibitor of MW 13,000, which is produced at a constant rate by all the nucleated cells. It is not bound to protein, is freely filtered by glomeruli and is not returned to circulation after filtration. It is a more sensitive and specific marker of impaired renal function than plasma creatinine. Its level is not affected by sex, diet, or muscle mass. It is thought that cystatin C is a superior marker for estimation of GFR than creatinine clearance. It is measured by immunoassay.
 
Creatinine Clearance
 
This is the most commonly used test for measuring GFR.
 
Creatinine is being produced constantly from creatine in muscle. It is completely filtered by glomeruli and is not reabsorbed by tubules; however, a small amount is secreted by tubules.
 
A 24-hour urine sample is preferred to overcome the problem of diurnal variation of creatinine excretion and to reduce the inaccuracy in urine collection. 
 
After getting up in the morning, the first voided urine is discarded. Subsequently all the urine passed is collected in the container provided. After getting up in the next morning, the first voided urine is also collected and the container is sent to the laboratory. A blood sample for estimation of plasma creatinine is obtained at midpoint of urine collection. Creatinine clearance is calculated from (1) concentration of creatinine in urine in mg/ml (U), (2) volume of urine excreted in ml/min (V) (this is calculated by the formula: volume of urine collected/collection time in minutes e.g. volume of urine collected in 24 hours ÷ 1440), and (3) concentration of creatinine in plasma in mg/dl (P). Creatinine clearance in ml/min per 1.73 m2 is then derived from the formula UV/P.
 
Because of secretion of creatinine by renal tubules, the above formula overestimates GFR by about 10%. In advanced renal failure, secretion of creatinine by tubules is increased and thus overestimation of GFR is even more.
 
Jaffe’s reaction (see serum creatinine) used for estimation of creatinine measures creatinine as well as some other substances (non-creatinine chromogens) in blood and thus gives slightly higher result. Thus effect of tubular secretion of creatinine is somewhat balanced by slight overestimation of serum creatinine by Jaffe’s reaction.
 
To provide values closer to the actual GFR, cimetidine (which blocks secretion by renal tubules) can be administered before commencing urine collection (cimetidine-enhanced creatinine clearance).
 
Creatinine clearance is not an ideal test for estimation of GFR because of following reasons:
 
  1. A small amount of creatinine is secreted by renal tubules that increase even further in advanced renal failure.
  2. Collection of urine is often incomplete.
  3. Creatinine level is affected by intake of meat and muscle mass.
  4. Creatinine level is affected by certain drugs like cimetidine, probenecid, and trimethoprim (which block tubular secretion of creatinine).
 
Urea Clearance
 
Urea is filtered by the glomeruli, but about 40% of the filtered amount is reabsorbed by the tubules. The reabsorption depends on the rate of urine flow. Thus it underestimates GFR, depends on the urine flow rate, and is not a sensitive indicator of GFR.
 
BUN and serum creatinine, by themselves, are not sensitive indicators of early renal impairment since values may be normal e.g. if baseline values of serum creatinine is 0.5 mg/dl, then 50% reduction in kidney function would increase it to 1.0 mg/dl. Thus clearance tests are more helpful in early cases. If biochemical tests are normal and renal function impairment is suspected, then creatinine clearance test should be carried out. If biochemical tests are abnormal, then clearance tests need not be done.
 
Further Reading:
 
Renal biopsy refers to obtaining a small piece of kidney tissue for microscopic examination. Percutaneous renal biopsy was first performed by Alwall in 1944. In renal disease, renal biopsy is helpful to:
 
  • Establish the diagnosis
  • Assess severity and activity of disease
  • Assess prognosis by noting the amount of scarring
  • To plan treatment and monitor response to therapy
 
Renal biopsy is associated with the risk of procedure-related morbidity and rarely mortality. Therefore, before performing renal biopsy, risks of the procedure and benefits of histologic examination should be evaluated in each patient.
 
Indications for Renal Biopsy
 
  1. Nephrotic syndrome in adults (most common indication)
  2. Nephrotic syndrome not responding to corticosteroids in children.
  3. Acute nephritic syndrome for differential diagnosis
  4. Unexplained renal insufficiency with near-normal kidney dimensions on ultrasonography
  5. Asymptomatic hematuria, when other diagnostic tests fail to identify the source of bleeding
  6. Isolated non-nephrotic range proteinuria (1-3 gm/24 hours) with renal impairment
  7. Impaired function of renal graft
  8. Involvement of kidney in systemic disease like systemic lupus erythematosus or amyloidosis
 
Contraindications
 
  1. Uncontrolled severe hypertension
  2. Hemorrhagic diathesis
  3. Solitary kidney
  4. Renal neoplasm (to avoid spread of malignant cells along the needle track)
  5. Large and multiple renal cysts
  6. Small, shrunken kidneys
  7. Acute urinary tract infection like pyelonephritis
  8. Urinary tract obstruction
 
Complications
 
  1. Hemorrhage: As renal cortex is highly vascular, major risk is bleeding in the form of hematuria or perinephric hematoma. Severe bleeding may occasionally necessitate blood transfusion and rarely removal of kidney.
  2. Arteriovenous fistula
  3. Infection
  4. Accidental biopsy of another organ or perforation of viscus (liver, spleen, pancreas, adrenals, intestine, or gallbladder)
  5. Death (rare).
 
Procedure
 
  1. Patient’s informed consent is obtained.
  2. Ultrasound/CT scan is done to document the location and size of kidneys.
  3. Blood pressure should be less than 160/90 mm of Hg. Bleeding time, platelet count, prothrombin time, and activated partial thromboplastin time should be normal. Blood sample should be drawn for blood grouping and cross matching, as blood transfusion may be needed.
  4. Patient is sedated before the procedure.
  5. Patient lies in prone position and kidney is identified with ultrasound.
  6. The skin over the selected site is disinfected and a local anesthetic is infiltrated.
  7. A small skin incision is given with a scalpel (to insert the biopsy needle). Localization of kidney is done with a fine bore 21 G lumbar puncture needle. A local anesthetic is infiltrated down to the renal capsule.
  8. A tru-cut biopsy needle or spring loaded biopsy gun is inserted under ultrasound guidance and advanced down to the lower pole. Biopsy is usually obtained from lateral border of lower pole. Patient should hold his/her breath in full inspiration during biopsy. After obtaining the biopsy and removal of needle, patient is allowed to breath normally.
  9. The biopsy should be placed in a drop of saline and examined under a dissecting microscope for adequacy.
  10. Patient is turned to supine position. Vital signs and appearance of urine should be monitored at regular intervals. Patient is usually kept in the hospital for 24 hours.
 
Kidney biopsy can be divided into three parts for light microscopy, immunofluorescence, and electron microscopy. For light microscopy, renal biopsy is routinely fixed in neutral buffered formaldehyde. Sections are stained by:
 
  • Hematoxylin and eosin (for general architecture of kidney and cellularity)
  • Periodic acid Schiff: To highlight basement membrane and connective tissue matrix.
  • Congo red: For amyloid.
 
For electron microscopy, tissue is fixed in glutaraldeyde. In immunohistochemistry, tissue deposits of IgG, IgA, IgM, C3, fibrin, and κ and λ light chains can be detected by using appropriate antibodies. Many kidney diseases are immune-complex mediated.

In DM, applications of laboratory tests are as follows:

  • Diagnosis of DM
  • Screening of DM
  • Assessment of glycemic control
  • Assessment of associated long-term risks
  • Management of acute metabolic complications.

LABORATORY TESTS FOR DIAGNOSIS OF DIABETES MELLITUS

Diagnosis of DM is based exclusively on demonstration of raised blood glucose level (hyperglycemia).

The current criteria (American Diabetes Association, 2004) for diagnosis of DM are as follows:

Typical symptoms of DM (polyuria, polydipsia, weight loss) and random plasma glucose ≥ 200 mg/dl (≥ 11.1 mmol/L)

Or

Fasting plasma glucose ≥ 126 mg/dl (≥ 7.0 mmol/L)

Or

2-hour post glucose load (75 g) value during oral glucose tolerance test ≥ 200 mg/dl (≥ 11.1 mmol/L).

If any one of the above three criteria is present, confirmation by repeat testing on a subsequent day is necessary for establishing the diagnosis of DM. However, such confirmation by repeat testing is not required if patient presents with (a) hyperglycemia and ketoacidosis, or (b) hyperosmolar hyperglycemia.

The tests used for laboratory diagnosis of DM are (1) estimation of blood glucose and (2) oral glucose tolerance test.

Estimation of Blood Glucose

Measurement of blood glucose level is a simple test to assess carbohydrate metabolism in DM (Figure 837.1). Since glucose is rapidly metabolized in the body, measurement of blood glucose is indicative of current state of carbohydrate metabolism.

Figure 837.1 Blood glucose values in normal individuals
Figure 837.1 Blood glucose values in normal individuals, prediabetes, and diabetes mellitus

Glucose concentration can be estimated in whole blood (capillary or venous blood), plasma or serum. However, concentration of blood glucose differs according to nature of the blood specimen. Plasma glucose is about 15% higher than whole blood glucose (the figure is variable with hematocrit). During fasting state, glucose levels in both capillary and venous blood are about the same. However, postprandial or post glucose load values are higher by 20-70 mg/dl in capillary blood than venous blood. This is because venous blood is on a return trip after delivering blood to the tissues.

When whole blood is left at room temperature after collection, glycolysis reduces glucose level at the rate of about 7 mg/dl/hour. Glycolysis is further increased in the presence of bacterial contamination or leucocytosis. Addition of sodium fluoride (2.5 mg/ml of blood) maintains stable glucose level by inhibiting glycolysis. Sodium fluoride is commonly used along with an anticoagulant such as potassium oxalate or EDTA. Addition of sodium fluoride is not necessary if plasma is separated from whole blood within 1 hour of blood collection.

Plasma is preferred for estimation of glucose since whole blood glucose is affected also by concentration of proteins (especially hemoglobin).

There are various methods for estimation of blood glucose:

  • Chemical methods:
    – Orthotoluidine method
    – Blood glucose reduction methods using neocuproine, ferricyanide, or copper.

Chemical methods are less specific but are cheaper as compared to enzymatic methods.

  • Enzymatic methods: These are specific for glucose.
    – Glucose oxidase-peroxidase
    – Hexokinase
    – Glucose dehydrogenase

Chemical methods have now been replaced by enzymatic methods.

Terms used for blood glucose specimens: Depending on the time of collection, different terms are used for blood glucose specimens.

  • Fasting blood glucose: Sample for blood glucose is withdrawn after an overnight fast (no caloric intake for at least 8 hours).
  • Post meal or postprandial blood glucose: Blood sample for glucose estimation is collected 2 hours after the subject has taken a normal meal.
  • Random blood glucose: Blood sample is collected at any time of the day, without attention to the time of last food intake.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

Glucose tolerance refers to the ability of the body to metabolize glucose. In DM, this ability is impaired or lost and glucose intolerance represents the fundamental pathophysiological defect in DM. OGTT is a provocative test to assess response to glucose challenge in an individual (Figure 837.2).

Figure 837.2 Oral glucose tolerance curve
Figure 837.2 Oral glucose tolerance curve

American Diabetes Association does not recommend OGTT for routine diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 DM. This is because fasting plasma glucose cutoff value of 126 mg/dl identifies the same prevalence of abnormal glucose metabolism in the population as OGTT. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends OGTT in those cases in which fasting plasma glucose is in the range of impaired fasting glucose (i.e. 100-125 mg/dl). Both ADA and WHO recommend OGTT for diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus.

Preparation of the Patient

  • Patient should be put on a carbohydrate-rich, unrestricted diet for 3 days. This is because carbohydrate-restricted diet reduces glucose tolerance.
  • Patient should be ambulatory with normal physical activity. Absolute bed rest for a few days impairs glucose tolerance.
  • Medications should be discontinued on the day of testing.
  • Exercise, smoking, and tea or coffee are not allowed during the test period. Patient should remain seated.
  • OGTT is carried out in the morning after patient has fasted overnight for 8-14 hours.

Test

  1. A fasting venous blood sample is collected in the morning.
  2. Patient ingests 75 g of anhydrous glucose in 250-300 ml of water over 5 minutes. (For children, the dose is 1.75 g of glucose per kg of body weight up to maximum 75 g of glucose). Time of starting glucose drink is taken as 0 hour.
  3. A single venous blood sample is collected 2 hours after the glucose load. (Previously, blood samples were collected at ½, 1, 1½, and 2 hours, which is no longer recommended).
  4. Plasma glucose is estimated in fasting and 2-hour venous blood samples.

Interpretation of blood glucose levels is given in Table 837.1.

Table 837.1 Interpretation of oral glucose tolerance test
Parameter Normal Impaired fasting glucose Impaired glucose tolerance Diabetes mellitus
(1) Fasting (8 hr) < 100 100-125 ≥ 126
(2) 2 hr OGTT < 140 < 140 140-199 ≥ 200

OGTT in gestational diabetes mellitus: Impairment of glucose tolerance develops normally during pregnancy, particularly in 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Following are the recent guidelines of ADA for laboratory diagnosis of GDM:

  • Low-risk pregnant women need not be tested if all of the following criteria are met, i.e. age below 25 years, normal body weight (before pregnancy), absence of diabetes in first-degree relatives, member of an ethnic group with low prevalence of DM, no history of poor obstetric outcome, and no history of abnormal glucose tolerance.
  • Average-risk pregnant women (i.e. who are in between low and high risk) should be tested at 24-28 weeks of gestation.
  • High-risk pregnant women i.e. those who meet any one of the following criteria should be tested immediately: marked obesity, strong family history of DM, glycosuria, or personal history of GDM.

Initially, fasting plasma glucose or random plasma glucose should be obtained. If fasting plasma glucose is ≥ 126 mg/dl or random plasma glucose is ≥ 200 mg/dl, repeat testing should be carried out on a subsequent day for confirmation of DM. If both the tests are normal, then OGTT is indicated in average-risk and high-risk pregnant women.

There are two approaches for laboratory diagnosis of GDM

  • One step approach
  • Two step approach

In one step approach, 100 gm of glucose is administered to the patient and a 3-hour OGTT is performed. This test may be cost-effective in high-risk pregnant women.

In two-step approach, an initial screening test is done in which patient drinks a 50 g glucose drink irrespective of time of last meal and a venous blood sample is collected 1 hour later (O’Sullivan’s test). GDM is excluded if glucose level in venous plasma sample is below 140 mg/dl. If level exceeds 140 mg/dl, then the complete 100 g, 3-hour OGTT is carried out.

In the 3-hour OGTT, blood samples are collected in the morning (after 8-10 hours of overnight fasting), and after drinking 100 g glucose, at 1, 2, and 3 hours. For diagnosis of GDM, glucose concentration should be above the following cut-off values in 2 or more of the venous plasma samples:

  • Fasting: 95 mg/dl
  • 1 hour: 180 mg/dl
  • 2 hour: 155 mg/dl
  • 3 hour: 140 mg/dl

LABORATORY TESTS FOR SCREENING OF DIABETES MELLITUS

Aim of screening is to identify asymptomatic individuals who are likely to have DM. Since early detection and prompt institution of treatment can reduce subsequent complications of DM, screening may be an appropriate step in some situations.

Screening for type 2 DM: Type 2 DM is the most common type of DM and is usually asymptomatic in its initial stages. Its onset occurs about 5-7 years before clinical diagnosis. Evidence indicates that complications of type 2 DM begin many years before clinical diagnosis. American Diabetes Association recommends screening for type 2 DM in all asymptomatic individuals ≥ 45 years of age using fasting plasma glucose. If fasting plasma glucose is normal (i.e. < 100 mg/dl), screening test should be repeated every three years.

Another approach is selective screening i.e. screening individuals at high risk of developing type 2 DM i.e. if one or more of the following risk factors are presentobesity (body mass index ≥ 25.0 kg/m2), family history of DM (first degree relative with DM), high-risk ethnic group, hypertension, dyslipidemia, impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance, or history of GDM. In such cases, screening is performed at an earlier age (30 years) and repeated more frequently.

Recommended screening test for type 2 DM is fasting plasma glucose. If ≥126 mg/dl, it should be repeated on a subsequent day for confirmation of diagnosis. If <126 mg/dl, OGTT is indicated if clinical suspicion is strong. A 2-hour post-glucose load value in OGTT ≥200 mg/dl is indicative of DM and should be repeated on a different day for confirmation.

Screening for type 1 DM: Type 1 DM is detected early after its onset since it has an acute presentation with characteristic clinical features. Therefore, it is not necessary to screen for type 1 DM by estimation of blood glucose. Detection of immunologic markers (mentioned earlier) has not been recommended to identify persons at risk.

Screening for GDM: Given earlier under OGTT in gestational diabetes mellitus.

LABORATORY TESTS TO ASSESS GLYCEMIC CONTROL

There is a direct correlation between the degree of blood glucose control in DM (both type 1 and type 2) and the development of microangiopathic complications i.e. nephropathy, retinopathy, and neuropathy. Maintenance of blood glucose level as close to normal as possible (referred to as tight glycemic control) reduces the risk of microvascular complications. There is also association between persistently high blood glucose values in DM with increased cardiovascular mortality.

Following methods can monitor degree of glycemic control:

  • Periodic measurement of glycated hemoglobin (to assess long-term control).
  • Daily self-assessment of blood glucose (to assess day-to- day or immediate control).

Glycated Hemoglobin (Glycosylated Hemoglobin, HbA1C)

Glycated hemoglobin refers to hemoglobin to which glucose is attached nonenzymatically and irreversibly; its amount depends upon blood glucose level and lifespan of red cells.

Hemoglobin + Glucose ↔ Aldimine → Glycated hemoglobin

Plasma glucose readily moves across the red cell membranes and is being continuously combined with hemoglobin during the lifespan of the red cells (120 days). Therefore, some hemoglobin in red cells is present normally in glycated form. Amount of glycated hemoglobin in blood depends on blood glucose concentration and lifespan of red cells. If blood glucose concentration is high, more hemoglobin is glycated. Once formed, glycated hemoglobin is irreversible. Level of glycated hemoglobin is proportional to the average glucose level over preceding 6-8 weeks (about 2 months). Glycated hemoglobin is expressed as a percentage of total hemoglobin. Normally, less than 5% of hemoglobin is glycated.

Numerous prospective studies have demonstrated that a good control of blood glucose reduces the development and progression of microvascular complications (retinopathy, nephropathy, and peripheral neuropathy) of diabetes mellitus. Mean glycated hemoglobin level correlates with the risk of these complications.

The terms glycated hemoglobin, glycosylated hemoglobin, glycohemoglobin, HbA1, and HbA1c are often used interchangeably in practice. Although these terms refer to hemoglobins that contain nonenzymatically added glucose residues, hemoglobins thus modified differ. Most of the studies have been carried out with HbA1c.

Glycated hemoglobin should be routinely measured in all diabetic patients (both type 1 and type 2) at regular intervals to assess degree of long-term glycemic control. Apart from mean glycemia (over preceding 120 days), glycated hemoglobin level also correlates with the risk of the development of chronic complications of DM. In DM, it is recommended to maintain glycated hemoglobin level to less than 7%.

Box 837.1 Glycated hemoglobin 
  • Hemoglobin A1C of 6% corresponds to mean serum glucose level of 135 mg/dl. With every rise of 1%, serum glucose increases by 35 mg/dl. Approximations are as follows:
    – Hb A1C 7%: 170 mg/dl
    – Hb A1C 8%: 205 mg/dl
    – Hb A1C 9%: 240 mg/dl
    – Hb A1C 10%: 275 mg/dl
    – Hb A1C 11%: 310 mg/dl
    – Hb A1C 12%: 345 mg/dl
  • Assesses long-term control of DM (thus indirectly confirming plasma glucose results or self-testing results).
  • Assesses whether treatment plan is working
  • Measurement of glycated hemoglobin does not replace measurement of day-to-day control by glucometer devices.

Spurious results of glycated hemoglobin are seen in reduced red cell survival (hemolysis), blood loss, and hemoglobinopathies.

In DM, if glycated hemoglobin is less than 7%, it should be measured every 6 months. If >8%, then more frequent measurements (every 3 months) along with change in treatment are advocated.

There are various methods for measurement of glycated hemoglobin such as chromatography, immunoassay, and agar gel electrophoresis.

Role of glycated hemoglobin in management of DM is highlighted in Box 837.1.

Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose (SMBG)

Diabetic patients are taught how to regularly monitor their own blood glucose levels. Regular use of SMBG devices (portable glucose meters) by diabetic patients has improved the management of DM. With SMBG devices, blood glucose level can be monitored on day-to-day basis and kept as close to normal as possible by adjusting insulin dosage. SMBG devices measure capillary whole blood glucose obtained by fingerprick and use test strips that incorporate glucose oxidase or hexokinase. In some strips, a layer is incorporated to exclude blood cells so that glucose in plasma is measured. Aim of achieving tight glycemic control introduces the risk of severe hypoglycemia. Daily use of SMBG devices can avoid major hypoglycemic episodes.

SMBG devices yield unreliable results at very high and very low glucose levels. It is necessary to periodically check the performance of the glucometer by measuring parallel venous plasma glucose in the laboratory.

Portable glucose meters are used by patients for day-to-day self-monitoring, by physicians in their OPD clinics, and by health care workers for monitoring admitted patients at the bedside. These devices should not be used for diagnosis and population screening of DM as they lack precision and there is variability of results between different meters.

Goal of tight glycemic control in type 1 DM patients on insulin can be achieved through self-monitoring of blood glucose by portable blood glucose meters.

Glycosuria

Semiquantitative urine glucose testing for monitoring of diabetes mellitus in home setting is not recommended. This is because (1) even if glucose is absent in urine, no information about blood glucose concentration below the renal threshold (which itself is variable) is obtained (Normally, renal threshold is around 180 mg/dl; it tends to be lower in pregnancy (140 mg/dl) and higher in old age and in long-standing diabetics; in some normal persons it is low), (2) urinary glucose testing cannot detect hypoglycemia, and (3) concentration of glucose in urine is affected by urinary concentration. Semiquantitative urine glucose testing for monitoring has now been replaced by self-testing by portable glucose meters.

LABORATORY TESTS TO ASSESS LONG-TERM RISKS

Urinary Albumin Excretion
 
Diabetes mellitus is one of the leading causes of renal failure. Diabetic nephropathy develops in around 20-30% of patients with type 1 or type 2 DM. Diabetic nephropathy progresses through different stages as shown in Figure 837.3. Hypertension also develops along the course of nephropathy with increasing albumin excretion. Evidence indicates that if diabetic nephropathy is detected early and specific treatment is instituted, further progression of nephropathy can be significantly ameliorated. Early detection of diabetic nephropathy is based on estimation of urinary albumin excretion. In all adult patients with DM, usual reagent strip test for proteinuria should be carried out periodically. Positive test means presence of overt proteinuria or clinical proteinuria and may be indicative of overt nephropathy. In all such patients quantitation of albuminuria should be carried out to plan appropriate therapy. If the routine dipstick test for proteinuria is negative, test for microalbuminuria should be carried out.
 
Figure 837.3 Evolution of diabetic nephropathy
Figure 837.3 Evolution of diabetic nephropathy. In 80% of patients with type 1 DM, microalbuminuria progresses in 10-15 years to overt nephropathy that is then followed in majority of cases by progressive fall in GFR and ultimately end-stage renal disease. Amongst patients with type 2 DM and microalbuminuria, 20-40% of patients progress to overt nephropathy, and about 20% of patients with overt nephropathy develop end-stage renal disease. Abbreviation: GFR: Glomerular filtration rate
 
The term ‘microalbuminuria’ refers to the urinary excretion of albumin below the level of detection by routine dipstick testing but above normal (30-300 mg/ 24 hrs, 20-200 μg/min, or 30-300 μg/mg of creatinine). Albumin excretion rate is intermediate between normal (normal albumin excretion in urine is < 30 mg/24 hours) and overt albuminuria (> 300 mg/24 hours). Significance of microalbuminuria in DM is as follows:
 
  • It is the earliest marker of diabetic nephropathy. Early diabetic nephropathy is reversible.
  • It is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in both type 1 and type 2 patients.
  • It is associated with higher blood pressure and poor glycemic control.
 
Specific therapeutic interventions such as tight glycemic control, administration of ACE (angiotensinconverting enzyme) inhibitors, and aggressive treatment of hypertension significantly slow down the progression of diabetic nephropathy.
 
In type 2 DM, screening for microalbuminuria should begin at the time of diagnosis, whereas in type 1 DM, it should begin 5 years after diagnosis. At this time, a routine reagent strip test for proteinuria is carried out; if negative, testing for microalbuminuria is done. Thereafter, in all patients who test negative, screening for microalbuminuria should be repeated every year.
 
Screening tests for microalbuminuria include:
 
 
Reagent strip tests to detect microalbuminuria are available. Positive results should be confirmed by more specific quantitative tests like radioimmunoassay and enzyme immunoassay. For diagnosis of microalbuminuria, tests should be positive in at least two out of three different samples over a 3 to 6 month period.
 
Lipid Profile
 
Abnormalities of lipids are associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in patients with DM. This risk can be reduced by intensive treatment of lipid abnormalities. Lipid parameters which should be measured include:
 
  • Total cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
 
The usual pattern of lipid abnormalities in type 2 DM is elevated triglycerides, decreased HDL cholesterol and higher proportion of small, dense LDL particles. Patients with DM are categorized into high, intermediate and low-risk categories depending on lipid levels in blood (Table 837.2).
 
Table 837.2 Categorization of cardiovascular risk in diabetes mellitus according to lipid levels (American Diabetes Association)
Category Low density lipoproteins High density lipoproteins Triglycerides
High-risk ≥130 < 35 (men) ≥ 400
    < 45 (women)  
Intermediate risk 100-129 35-45 200-399
Low-risk < 100 > 45 (men) < 200
    > 55 (women)  
 
Annual lipid profile is indicated in all adult patients with DM.
 
LABORATORY TESTS IN THE MANAGEMENT OF ACUTE METABOLIC COMPLICATIONS OF DIABETES MELLITUS
 
The three most serious acute metabolic complications of DM are:
 
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
  • Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS)
  • Hypoglycemia
 
The typical features of DKA are hyperglycemia, ketosis, and acidosis. The common causes of DKA are infection, noncompliance with insulin therapy, alcohol abuse and myocardial infarction. Patients with DKA present with rapid onset of polyuria, polydipsia, polyphagia, weakness, vomiting, and sometimes abdominal pain. Signs include Kussmaul’s respiration, odour of acetone on breath (fruity), mental clouding, and dehydration. Classically, DKA occurs in type 1, while HHS is more typical of type 2 DM. However, both complications can occur in either types. If untreated, both events can lead to coma and death.
 
Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state is characterized by very high blood glucose level (> 600 mg/dl), hyperosmolality (>320 mOsmol/kg of water), dehydration, lack of ketoacidosis, and altered mental status. It usually occurs in elderly type 2 diabetics. Insulin secretion is adequate to prevent ketosis but not hyperglycemia. Causes of HHS are illness, dehydration, surgery, and glucocorticoid therapy.
 
Differences between DKA and HHS are presented in Table 837.3.
 
Table 837.3 Comparison of diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state
Parameter Diabetic ketoacidosis Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state
1. Type of DM in which more common  Type 1 Type 2 
2. Age  Younger age  Older age
3. Prodromal clinical features  < 24 hrs  Several days
4. Abdominal pain, Kussmaul’s respiration  Yes  No
5. Acidosis  Moderate/Severe  Absent
6. Plasma glucose  > 250 mg/dl  Very high (>600 mg/dl)
7. Serum bicarbonate  <15 mEq/L  >15 mEq/L
8. Blood/urine ketones  ++++  ±
9. β-hydroxybutyrate  High  Normal or raised
10. Arterial blood pH  Low (<7.30)  Normal (>7.30)
11. Effective serum osmolality*  Variable  Increased (>320)
12. Anion gap**  >12  Variable
Osmolality: Number of dissolved (solute) particles in solution; normal: 275-295 mOsmol/kg
** Anion gap: Difference between sodium and sum of chloride and bicarbonate in plasma; normal average value is 12
 
Laboratory evaluation consists of following investigations:
 
  • Blood and urine glucose
  • Blood and urine ketone
  • Arterial pH, Blood gases
  • Serum electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate)
  • Blood osmolality
  • Serum creatinine and blood urea.
 
Testing for ketone bodies: Ketone bodies are formed from metabolism of free fatty acids and include acetoacetic acid, acetone and β-hydroxybutyric acid.
 
Indications for testing for ketone bodies in DM include:
 
  • At diagnosis of diabetes mellitus
  • At regular intervals in all known cases of diabetes, during pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes, and in gestational diabetes
  • In known diabetic patients: during acute illness, persistent hyperglycemia (> 300 mgs/dl), pregnancy, and clinical evidence of diabetic acidosis (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain).
 
An increased amount of ketone bodies in patients with DM indicate impending or established diabetic ketoacidosis and is a medical emergency. Method based on colorimetric reaction between ketone bodies and nitroprusside (by dipstick or tablet) is used for detection of both blood and urine ketones.
 
Test for urine ketones alone should not be used for diagnosis and monitoring of diabetic ketoacidosis. It is recommended to measure β-hydroxybutyric acid (which accounts for 75% of all ketones in ketoacidosis) for diagnosis and monitoring DKA.
 
REFERENCE RANGES
 
  • Venous plasma glucose:
    Fasting: 60-100 mg/dl
    At 2 hours in OGTT (75 gm glucose): <140 mg/dl
  • Glycated hemoglobin: 4-6% of total hemoglobin
  • Lipid profile:
    – Serum cholesterol: Desirable level: <200 mg/dl
    – Serum triglycerides: Desirable level: <150 mg/dl
    – HDL cholesterol: ≥60 mg/dl
    – LDL cholesterol: <130 mg/dl
    – LDL/HDL ratio: 0.5-3.0
  • C-peptide: 0.78-1.89 ng/ml
  • Arterial pH: 7.35-7.45
  • Serum or plasma osmolality: 275-295 mOsm/kg of water.

Serum Osmolality can also be calculated by the following formula recommended by American Diabetes Association:
 
Effective serum osmolality (mOsm/kg) = (2 × sodium mEq/L) + Plasma glucose (mg/dl)
                                                                                                            18
 
  • Anion gap:
    – Na+ – (Cl + HCO3): 8-16 mmol/L (Average 12)
    – (Na+ + K+) – (Cl + HCO3): 10-20 mmol/L (Average 16)
  • Serum sodium: 135-145 mEq/L
  • Serum potassium: 3.5-5.0 mEq/L
  • Serum chloride: 100-108 mEq/L
  • Serum bicarbonate: 24-30 mEq/L
 
CRITICAL VALUES
 
  • Venous plasma glucose: > 450 mg/dl
  • Strongly positive test for glucose and ketones in urine
  • Arterial pH: < 7.2 or > 7.6
  • Serum sodium: < 120 mEq/L or > 160 mEq/L
  • Serum potassium: < 2.8 mEq/L or > 6.2 mEq/L
  • Serum bicarbonate: < 10 mEq/L or > 40 mEq/L
  • Serum chloride: < 80 mEq/L or > 115 mEq/L

PREGNANCY TESTS

  • 16 Aug 2017

Pregnancy tests detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in serum or urine. Although pregnancy is the most common reason for ordering the test for hCG, measurement of hCG is also indicated in other conditions as shown in Box 836.1.

Human chorionic gonadotropin is a glycoprotein hormone produced by placenta that circulates in maternal blood and excreted intact by the kidneys. It consists of two polypeptide subunits: α (92 amino acids) and β (145 amino acids) which are non-covalently bound to each other. Structurally, hCG is closely related to three other glycoprotein hormones, namely, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The α subunits of hCG, LH, FSH, and TSH are similar, while β subunits differ and confer specific biologic and immunologic properties. Immunological tests use antibodies directed against β-subunit of hCG to avoid cross-reactivity against LH, FSH, and TSH.

Box 836.1 Indications for measurement of β human chorionic gonadotropin

• Early diagnosis of pregnancy
• Diagnosis and management of gestational trophoblastic disease
• As a part of maternal triple test screen
• Follow-up of malignant tumors that produce β human chorionic gonadotropin.

Syncytiotrophoblastic cells of conceptus and later of placenta synthesize hCG. Human chorionic gonadotropin supports the corpus luteum of ovary during early pregnancy. Progesterone, produced by corpus luteum, prevents ovulation and thus maintains pregnancy. After 7-10 weeks of gestation, sufficient amounts of progesterone are synthesized by placenta, and hCG is no longer needed and its level declines.

CLINICAL APPLICATIONS OF TESTS FOR HUMAN CHORIONIC GONADOTROPIN

  1. Early diagnosis of pregnancy: Qualitative serum hCG test becomes positive 3 weeks after last menstrual period (LMP), while urine hCG test becomes positive 5 weeks after LMP.
  2. Exclusion of pregnancy before prescribing certain medications (like oral contraceptives, steroids, some antibiotics), and before ordering radiological studies, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy. This is necessary to prevent any teratogenic effect on the fetus.
  3. Early diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy: Trans-vaginal ultrasonography (USG) and quantitative estimation of hCG are helpful in early diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy (before rupture).
  4. Evaluation of threatened abortion: Serial quantitative estimation of hCG is helpful in following the course of threatened abortion.
  5. Diagnosis and follow-up of gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD).
  6. Maternal triple test screen: This consists of measurement of hCG, α-fetoprotein, and unconjugated estriol in maternal serum at 14-19 weeks of gestation. The maternal triple screen identifies pregnant women with increased risk of Down syndrome and major congenital anomalies like neural tube defects.
  7. Follow-up of ovarian or testicular germ cell tumors, which produce hCG.

Normal Pregnancy

In women with normal menstrual cycle, conception (fertilization of ovum to form a zygote) occurs on day 14 in the fallopian tube. Zygote travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus. Division of zygote produces a morula. At 50-60-cell stage, morula develops a primitive yolk sac and is then called as a blastocyst. About 5 days after fertilization, implantation of blastocyst occurs in the uterine wall. Trophoblastic cells (on the outer surface of the blastocyst) penetrate the endometrium and develop into chorionic villi. There are two main forms of trophoblasts—syncytiotrophoblast and cytotrophoblast. Placental development occurs from chorionic villi. After formation of placenta, the conceptus is called as an embryo. When embryo develops most major organs, it is called as fetus (after 10 weeks of gestation).

Figure 836.1 Level of human chorionic gonadotropin during pregnancy
Figure 836.1Level of human chorionic gonadotropin during pregnancy

Box 836.2 Diagnosis of early pregnancy

• Positive serum hCG test: 8 days after conception or 3 weeks after last menstrual period (LMP)
• Positive urine hCG test: 21 days after conception or 5 weeks after LMP
• Ultrasonography for visualization of gestational sac:
– Transvaginal: 21 days after conception or 5 weeks after LMP
– Transabdominal: 28 days after conception or 6 weeks after LMP

Human chorionic gonadotropin is synthesized by syncytiotrophoblasts (of placenta) and detectable amounts (~5 mIU/ml) appear in maternal serum about 8 days after conception (3 weeks after LMP). In the first trimester (first 12 weeks, calculated from day 1 of LMP) of pregnancy, hCG levels rapidly rise with a doubling time of about 2 days. Highest or peak level is reached at 8-10 weeks (about 100,000 mIU/ml). This is followed by a gradual fall, and from 15-16 weeks onwards, a steady level of 10,000-20,000 mIU/ml is maintained for the rest of the pregnancy (Figure 836.1). After delivery, hCG becomes non-detectable by about 2 weeks.

Box 836.2 shows minimum time required for the earliest diagnosis of pregnancy by hCG test and ultrasonography (USG).

Two types of pregnancy tests are available:

  • Qualitative tests: These are positive/negative result types that are done on urine sample.
  • Quantitative tests: These give numerical result and are done on serum or urine. They are also used for evaluation of ectopic pregnancy, failing pregnancy, and for follow-up of gestational trophoblastic disease.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy refers to the implantation of blastocyst at a site other than the cavity of uterus. The most common of such sites (>95% cases) is fallopian tube. Early diagnosis and treatment of tubal ectopic pregnancy is essential since it can lead to maternal mortality (from rupture and hemorrhage) and future infertility. Ectopic pregnancy is a leading cause of maternal death during first trimester. Diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy can be readily made in most cases by ultrasonography and estimation of β-subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin.

Early diagnosis of unruptured tubal pregnancy can be made by quantitative estimation of serum hCG and ultrasonography. In normal intrauterine pregnancy, hCG titer doubles every 2 days until first 40 days of gestation. If hCG rise is abnormally slow, then an unviable pregnancy (either ectopic or abnormal intrauterine pregnancy) should be suspected.

Transabdominal USG can detect gestational sac in intrauterine pregnancy 6 weeks after LMP. The level of hCG in serum at this stage is >6500 mIU/ml. If gestational sac is not visualized at this level of hCG, then there is a possibility of ectopic pregnancy. Transvaginal ultrasonography can detect ectopic pregnancy average 1 week earlier than abdominal ultrasonography; it can detect gestational sac if β-hCG level is 1000-1500 mIU/ml. Therefore, if gestational sac is not visualized in the presence of >1500 mIU/ml of β-hCG level, an ectopic pregnancy can be suspected.

Early diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy provides the option of administration of intramuscular methotrexate (rather than surgery), which causes dissolution of conceptus. This improves the chances of patient’s future fertility. Serial measurements of hCG after surgical removal of ectopic pregnancy can help in detecting persistence of trophoblastic tissue.

Abortion

Termination of pregnancy before fetus becomes viable (i.e. before 20 weeks) is called as abortion.

In threatened abortion, vaginal bleeding is present but internal os is closed and process of abortion, though started, is still reversible. It is possible that pregnancy will continue.

Serial quantitative titers of hCG showing lack of expected doubling of hCG level and USG are helpful in diagnosis and management of abortion.

Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD)

It is characterized by proliferation of pregnancyassociated trophoblastic tissue. The two main forms of GTD are hydatidiform (vesicular) mole (benign) and choriocarcinoma (malignant). Clinical features of GTD are as follows:

  • Short history of amenorrhea followed by vaginal bleeding.
  • Size of uterus larger than gestational age; uterus is soft and doughy on palpation with no fetal parts and no fetal heart sounds.
  • Excessive nausea and vomiting due to high hCG.
  • Characteristic snowstorm appearance on pelvic USG.

Quantitative estimation of hCG is helpful in diagnosis and management of GTD.

Trophoblastic cells of GTD produce more hCG as compared to the trophoblasts of normal pregnancy for the same gestational age. Concentration of hCG parallels tumor load. Also, hCG continues to rise beyond 10 weeks of gestation without reaching plateau (as expected at the end of first trimester).

After evacuation of uterus, weekly estimation of hCG is advised till subsequent three (weekly) results are negative; following evacuation of vesicular mole, hCG becomes undetectable (after 2-3 months) on follow-up in 80% of cases. Plateau or rising hCG indicates persistent GTD. In such cases, chemotherapy is indicated.

Negative results for hCG after therapy should be regularly followed up every 3 months for 1-2 years.

LABORATORY TESTS FOR HUMAN CHORIONIC GONADOTROPIN

These are classified into two main groups:

  • Biological assays or bioassays
  • Immunological assays

Bioassays

In bioassay, effect of hCG is tested on laboratory animals under standardized conditions. There are several limitations of bioassays like need for animal facilities, need for standardization of animals, long time required for the test results, low sensitivity, and high cost. Therefore, bioassays have been replaced by immunological assays.

In Ascheim-Zondek test, urine from pregnant woman is injected into immature female mice. Formation of hemorrhagic corpora lutea in ovaries (after 4 days) is a positive test. Friedman test is similar except that urine is injected into female rabbit. In rapid rat test, injection of urine containing hCG into female rats is followed by hyperaemia and hemorrhage in ovaries. Yet another test measures release of spermatozoa from male frog after injection of urine containing hCG.

Immunological Assays

These are rapid and sensitive tests for detection and quantitation of hCG. Variable results are obtained by different immunological tests with the same serum sample; this is due to differences in specificity of different immunoassays to complete hCG, β-subunit, and β-core fragment. A number of immunological tests are commercially available based on different principles like agglutination inhibition assay, enzyme immunoassay including enzyme linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA, radioimmunoassay (RIA), and immunoradiometric assay.

A commonly used qualitative urine test is agglutination inhibition assay. Early morning urine specimen is preferred because it contains the highest concentration of hCG. Causes of false-positive test include red cells, leukocytes, bacteria, some drugs, proteins, and excess luteinizing hormone (menopause, midcycle LH surge) in urine. Some patients have anti-mouse antibodies (that are used in the test), while others have hCG-like material in circulation, producing false-positive test. Anti-mouse antibodies also interfere with other antibody-based tests and are known as ‘heterophil’ antibodies. Fetal death, abortion, dilute urine, and low sensitivity of a particular test are causes of false-negative test. Renal failure leads to accumulation of interfering substances causing incorrect results.

Figure 836.2 Principle of agglutination inhibition test for diagnosis of pregnancy
Figure 836.2 Principle of agglutination inhibition test for diagnosis of pregnancy

In latex particle agglutination inhibition test (Figure 836.2), anti-hCG antibodies are incubated with patient’s urine. This is followed by addition of hCGcoated latex particles. If hCG is present in urine, anti-hCG serum is neutralized, and no agglutination of latex particles occurs (positive test). If there is no hCG in urine, there is agglutination of latex particles (negative test). This is commonly used as a slide test and requires only a few minutes.

Sensitivity of agglutination inhibition test is >200 units/liter of hCG.

Radioimmunoassay, enzyme immunoassay, and radioimmunometric assay are more sensitive and reliable than agglutination inhibition assay.

Quantitative tests are employed for detection of very early pregnancy, estimation of gestational age, diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy, evaluation of threatened abortion, and management of GTD.

REFERENCE RANGES

  • Serum human chorionic gonadotropin:
    – Non-pregnant females: <5.0 mIU/ml
    – Pregnancy: 4 weeks after LMP: 5-100 mIU/ml
    – 5 weeks after LMP: 200-3000 mIU/ml
    – 6 weeks after LMP: 10,000-80,000 mIU/ml
    – 7-14 weeks: 90,000-500,000 mIU/ml
    – 15-26 weeks: 5000-80000 mIU/ml
    – 27-40 weks: 3000-15000 mIU/ml

Further Reading: SEMEN ANALYSIS FOR INVESTIGATION OF INFERTILITY

 Box 835.1 Contributions to semen volume
 
• Testes and epididymis: 10%
• Seminal vesicles: 50%
• Prostate: 40%
• Cowper’s glands: Small volume
Semen (or seminal fluid) is a fluid that is emitted from the male genital tract and contains sperms that are capable of fertilizing female ova. Structures involved in production of semen are (Box 835.1):
 
  • Testes: Male gametes or spermatozoa (sperms) are produced by testes; constitute 2-5% of semen volume.
  • Epididymis: After emerging from the testes, sperms are stored in the epididymis where they mature; potassium, sodium, and glycerylphosphorylcholine (an energy source for sperms) are secreted by epididymis.
  • Vas deferens: Sperms travel through the vas deferens to the ampulla which is another storage area. Ampulla secretes ergothioneine (a yellowish fluid that reduces chemicals) and fructose (source of nutrition for sperms).
  • Seminal vesicles: During ejaculation, nutritive and lubricating fluids secreted by seminal vesicles and prostate are added. Fluid secreted by seminal vesicles consists of fructose (energy source for sperms), amino acids, citric acid, phosphorous, potassium, and prostaglandins. Seminal vesicles contribute 50% to semen volume.
  • Prostate: Prostatic secretions comprise about 40% of semen volume and consist of citric acid, acid phosphatase, calcium, sodium, zinc, potassium, proteolytic enzymes, and fibrolysin.
  • Bulbourethral glands of Cowper secrete mucus.
 
Normal values for semen analysis are shown in Tables 835.1 and 835.2.
 
Table 835.1 Normal values of semen analysis (World Health Organization, 1999)
Test Result
1. Volume ≥2 ml
2. pH 7.2 to 8.0
3. Sperm concentration ≥20 million/ml
4. Total sperm count per ejaculate ≥40 million
5. Morphology ≥30% sperms with normal morphology
6. Vitality ≥75% live
7. White blood cells <1 million/ml
8. Motility within 1 hour of ejaculation  
    • Class A ≥25% rapidly progressive
    • Class A and B ≥50% progressive
9. Mixed antiglobuiln reaction (MAR) test <50% motile sperms with adherent particles
10. Immunobead test <50% motile sperms with adherent particles
 
Table 835.2 Biochemical variables of semen analysis (World Helath Organization, 1992)
 1. Total fructose (seminal vesicle marker) ≥13 μmol/ejaculate 
 2. Total zinc (Prostate marker)  ≥2.4 μmol/ejaculate
 3. Total acid phosphatase (Prostate marker)  ≥200U/ejaculate
 4. Total citric acid (Prostate marker)  ≥52 μmol/ejaculate
 5. α-glucosidase (Epididymis marker)  ≥20 mU/ejaculate
 6. Carnitine (Epididymis marker)  0.8-2.9 μmol/ejaculate
 
INDICATIONS FOR SEMEN ANALYSIS
 
Box 835.2 Tests done on seminal fluid
 
• Physical examination: Time to liquefaction, viscosity, volume, pH, color
• Microscopic examination: Sperm count, vitality, motility, morphology, and proportion of white cells
• Immunologic analysis: Antisperm antibodies (SpermMAR test, Immunobead test)
• Bacteriologic analysis: Detection of infection
• Biochemical analysis: Fructose, zinc, acid phosphatase, carnitine.
• Sperm function tests: Postcoital test, cervical mucus penetration test, Hamster egg penetration assay, hypoosmotic swelling of flagella, and computer-assisted semen analysis
Availability of semen for examination allows direct examination of male germ cells that is not possible with female germ cells. Semen analysis requires skill and should preferably be done in a specialized andrology laboratory.
 
  1. Investigation of infertility: Semen analysis is the first step in the investigation of infertility. About 30% cases of infertility are due to problem with males.
  2. To check the effectiveness of vasectomy by confirming absence of sperm.
  3. To support or disprove a denial of paternity on the grounds of sterility.
  4. To examine vaginal secretions or clothing stains for the presence of semen in medicolegal cases.
  5. For selection of donors for artificial insemination.
  6. For selection of assisted reproductive technology, e.g. in vitro fertilization, gamete intrafallopian transfer technique.
 
COLLECTION OF SEMEN FOR INVESTIGATION OF INFERTILITY
 
Semen specimen is collected after about 3 days of sexual abstinence. Longer period of abstinence reduces motility of sperms. If the period of abstinence is shorter than 3 days, sperm count is lower. The sample is obtained by masturbation, collected in a clean, dry, sterile, and leakproof wide-mouthed plastic container, and brought to the laboratory within 1 hour of collection. The entire ejaculate is collected, as the first portion is the most concentrated and contains the highest number of sperms. During transport to the laboratory, the specimen should be kept as close to body temperature as possible (i.e. by carrying it in an inside pocket). Ideally, the specimen should be obtained near the testing site in an adjoining room. Condom collection is not recommended as it contains spermicidal agent. Ejaculation after coitus interruptus leads to the loss of the first portion of the ejaculate that is most concentrated; therefore this method should not be used for collection. Two semen specimens should be examined that are collected 2-3 weeks apart; if results are significantly different additional samples are required.
 
Box 835.3 Semen analysis for initial investigation of infertility
 
• Volume
• pH
• Microscopic examination for (i) percentage of motile spermatozoa, (ii) sperm count, and (iii) sperm morphology
EXAMINATION OF SEMINAL FLUID
 
The tests that can be done on seminal fluid are shown in Box 835.2. Tests commonly done in infertility are shown in Box 835.3. The usual analysis consists of measurement of semen volume, sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology.
 
Terminology in semen analysis is shown in Box 835.4.
 
EXAMINATION OF SEMEN TO CHECK THEEFFECTIVENESS OF VASECTOMY
 
 Box 835.4 Terminology in semen analysis

• Normozoospermia: All semen parameters normal
• Oligozoospermia: Sperm concentration <20 million/ml (mild to moderate: 5-20 million/ml; severe: <5 million/ml)
• Azoospermia: Absence of sperms in seminal fluid
• Aspermia: Absence of ejaculate
• Asthenozoospermia: Reduced sperm motility; <50% of sperms showing class (a) and class (b) type of motility OR <25% sperms showing class (a) type of motility.
• Teratozoospermia: Spermatozoa with reduced proportion of normal morphology (or increased proportion of abnormal forms)
• Leukocytospermia: >1 million white blood cells/ml of semen
• Oligoasthenoteratozoospermia: All sperm variables are abnormal
• Necrozoospermia: All sperms are non-motile or non-viable
The aim of post-vasectomy semen analysis is to detect the presence or absence of spermatozoa. The routine follow-up consists of semen analysis starting 12 weeks (or 15 ejaculations) after surgery. If two successive semen samples are negative for sperms, the semen is considered as free of sperm. A follow-up semen examination at 6 months is advocated by some to rule out spontaneous reconnection.
 
Further Reading:
 
These tests are available only in specialized andrology laboratories. The tests are not standardized thus making interpretation difficult. If used singly, a sperm function test may not be helpful in fertility assessment. They are more predictive if used in combination.
 
Postcoital (Sims-Huhner) Test
 
This is the examination of the cervical mucus after coitus and assesses the ability of the sperm to penetrate the cervical mucus. The quality of the cervical mucus varies during the menstrual cycle, becoming more abundant and fluid at the time of ovulation (due to effect of estrogen); this facilitates penetration of the mucus by the spermatozoa. Progesterone in the secretory phase increases viscosity of the mucus. Therefore cervical mucus testing is scheduled just before ovulation (determined by basal body temperature records or follicular sizing by ultrasonography). Postcoital test is the traditional method to detect the cervical factor in infertility. Cervical mucus is aspirated with a syringe shortly before the expected time of ovulation and 2-12 hours after intercourse. Gross and microscopic examinations are carried out to assess the quality of cervical mucus (elasticity and drying pattern) and to evaluate the number and motility of sperms (Box 834.1). If ≥ 10 motile sperms are observed the test is considered as normal. An abnormal test may result from: (a) poor quality of cervical mucus due to wrong judgment of ovulation, cervicitis or treatment with antioestrogens (e.g. Clomid), and (b) absence of motile sperms due to ineffective technique of coitus, lack of ejaculation, poor semen quality, use of coital lubricants that damage the sperm, or presence of antisperm antibodies. Antisperm antibodies cause immotile sperms, or agglutination or clumping of sperms; they may be present in either partner. If cervical factor is present, intrauterine insemination is the popular treatment. The value of the postcoital test is disputed in the medical literature.
 
Box 834.1 Interpretation of postcoital test
  • Normal: Sperms are normal in amount and moving forward in the mucus; mucus stretches atleast 2 inches (5 cm) and dries in a fern-like manner.
  • Abnormal: Absence of sperms or large number of sperms are dead or sperms are clumped; cervical mucus cannot stretch 2 inches (5 cm) or does not dry in a fern-like manner.
 
This test can be carried out if semen analysis is normal, and the female partner is ovulating and fallopian tubes are not blocked. It is also done if antisperm antibodies are suspected and male partner refuses semen analysis.
 
Cervical Mucus Penetration Test
 
In this test, greatest distance traveled by the sperm in seminal fluid placed and incubated in a capillary tube containing bovine mucus is measured. Majority of fertile men show score >30 mm, while most infertile men show scores <20 mm.
 
Hamster Egg Penetration Assay
 
Hamster oocytes are enzymatically treated to remove the outer layers (that inhibit cross-species fertilization). They are then incubated with sperms and observed for penetration rate. It can be reported as (a) Number of eggs penetrated (penetration rate <15% indicates low fertility), or as (b) Number of sperm penetrations per egg (Normal >5). This test detects sperm motility, binding to oocyte, and penetration of oocyte. There is a high incidence of false-negative results.
 
Hypo-osmotic Swelling of Flagella
 
This test assesses the functional integrity of the plasma membrane of the sperm by observing curling of flagella in hypo-osmotic conditions.
 
Computer-assisted Semen Analysis
 
Computer software measures various characteristics of the spermatozoa; however, its role in predicting fertility potential is not confirmed.
ANTISPERM ANTIBODIES
 
The role of antisperm antibodies in causation of male infertility is controversial. The immunological tests done on seminal fluid include mixed antiglobulin reaction (MAR test) and immunobead test.
 
The antibodies against sperms immobilize or kill them, thus preventing their passage through the cervix to the ovum. The antibodies can be tested in the serum, seminal fluid, or cervical mucus. If the antibodies are present bound to the head of the sperm, they will prevent the penetration of the egg by the sperm. If antibodies are bound to the tail of the sperm, they will retard motility.
 
a. SpermMAR™ test: This test can detect IgG and IgA antibodies against sperm surface in semen sample. In direct SpermMAR™ IgG test, a drop each of semen (fresh and unwashed), IgG-coated latex particles, and anti-human immunoglobulin are mixed together on a glass slide. At least 200 motile spermatozoa are examined. If the spermatozoa have antibodies on their surface, antihuman immunoglobulin will bind IgG-coated latex particles to IgG on the surface of the spermatozoa; this will cause attachment of latex particles to spermatozoa, and motile, swimming sperms with attached particles will be seen. If the spermatozoa do not have antibodies on their surface, they will be seen swimming without attached particles; the latex particles will show clumping due to binding of their IgG to antihuman immunoglobulin.
 
In direct SpermMAR™ IgA test, a drop each of fresh unwashed semen and of IgA-coated latex particles, are mixed on a glass slide. The latex particles will bind to spermatozoa if spermatozoa are coated with IgA antibodies.
 
In indirect SpermMAR™ tests, fluid without spermatozoa (e.g. serum) is tested for the presence of antisperm antibodies. First, antibodies are bound to donor spermatozoa which are then mixed with the fluid to be analyzed. These antibodies are then detected as described above for direct tests.

Atleast 200 motile spermatozoa should be counted. If >50% of spermatozoa show attached latex particles, immunological problem is likely.
 
b. Immunobead test: Antibodies bound to the surface of the spermatozoa can be detected by antibodies attached to immunobeads (plastic particles with attached anti-human immunoglobulin that may be either IgG, IgA, or IgM). Percentage of motile spermatozoa with attached two or more immunobeads are counted amongst 200 motile spermatozoa. Finding of >50% spermatozoa with attached beads is abnormal.
The most important test in semen analysis for infertility is microscopic examination of the semen.
 
SPERM MOTILITY
 
The first laboratory assessment of sperm function in a wet preparation is sperm motility (ability of the sperms to move). Sperm motility is essential for penetration of cervical mucus, traveling through the fallopian tube, and penetrating the ovum. Only those sperms having rapidly progressive motility are capable of penetrating ovum and fertilizing it.
 
Principle: All motile and non-motile sperms are counted in randomly chosen fields in a wet preparation under 40× objective. Result is expressed as a percentage of motile spermatozoa observed.
 
Method: A drop of semen is placed on a glass slide, covered with a coverslip that is then ringed with petroleum jelly to prevent dehydration, and examined under 40× objective. Atleast 200 spermatozoa are counted in several different microscopic fields. Result is expressed as a percentage of (a) rapidly progressive spermatozoa (moving fast forward in a straight line), (b) slowly progressive spermatozoa (slow linear or non-linear, i.e. crooked or curved movement), (c) non-progressive spermatozoa (movement of tails, but with no forward progress), and (d) immotile spermatozoa (no movement at all) (WHO critera). Sperms of grades (c) and (d) are considered to be poorly motile (asthenospermia). Normally, ≥ 25% of sperms show rapid progressive motility, or ≥ 50% of sperms show rapid progressive and slow progressive motility.
 
If the proportion of motile spermatozoa is < 50%, then proportion of viable sperms should be determined by examining an eosin preparation.
 
SPERM VIABILITY OR VITALITY
 
Principle: A cell with intact cell membrane (a vital or viable cell) will not take up the eosin Y and will not be stained, while a non-viable or dead cell will have damaged cell membrane, will take up the dye, and will be stained pink-red (Figure 832.1). Another stain (e.g. nigrosin) may  be used to stain the background material. The test is performed if motility is abnormal.
 
Figure 832.1 Eosin nigrosin stain
Figure 832.1 Eosin-nigrosin stain. Dead sperms are stained pink-red, while live sperms are stained white
 
Method
 
  1. Mix one drop of semen with 1 drop of eosin-nigrosin solution and incubate for 30 seconds.
  2. A smear is made from a drop placed on a glass slide.
  3. The smear is air-dried and examined under oilimmersion objective. White sperms are classified as live or viable, and red sperms are classified as dead or non-viable. At least 200 spermatozoa are examined.
  4. The result is expressed as a proportion of viable sperms against non-viable as an integer percentage.
 
Seventy-five percent or more of sperms are normally live or viable.
 
SPERM COUNT
 
Principle: The sperm count is done after liquefaction in a counting chamber following dilution and the total number of spermatozoa is reported in millions/ml (106/ml).
 
Method
 
  1. Semen is diluted 1:20 with sodium bicarbonateformalin diluting fluid (Take 1 ml liquefied semen in a graduated tube and fill with diluting fluid to 20 ml mark. Mix well).
  2. A coverslip is placed over the improved Neubauer counting chamber and the counting chamber is filled with the well-mixed diluted semen sample using a Pasteur pipette. The chamber is then placed in a humid box for 10-15 minutes for spermatozoa to settle.
  3. The chamber is placed on the microscope stage. Using the 20× or 40× objective and iris diaphragm lowered sufficiently to give sufficient contrast, number of spermatozoa is counted in 4 large corner squares. Spermatozoa whose heads are touching left and upper lines of the square should be considered as ‘belonging’ to that square.
  4. Sperm count per ml is calculated as follows:

    Sperm count =                Sperms counted × correction factor             × 1000
                              Number of squares counted × Volume of 1 square
                           = Sperms counted × 20 1000
                                        4 × 0.1
                           = Sperms counted × 50, 000

  5. Normal sperm count is ≥ 20 million/ml (i.e. ≥ 20 × 106/ml). Sperm count < 20 million/ml may be associated with infertility in males.
 
SPERM MORPHOLOGY
 
A smear is prepared by spreading a drop of seminal fluid on a glass slide, stained, and percentages of normal and abnormal forms of spermatozoa are counted. The staining techniques used are Papanicolaou, eosinnigrosin, hematoxylin-eosin, and Rose Bengal-toluidine blue stain. Atleast 200 spermatozoa should be counted under oil immersion. Percentages of normal and abnormal spermatozoa should be recorded.
 
Normal morphology: A spermatozoon consists of three main components: head, neck, and tail. Tail is further subdivided into midpiece, main (principle) piece, and end piece (Figure 832.2 and Box 832.1).
 
Figure 832.2 Morphology of spermatozoa
Figure 832.2 Morphology of spermatozoa
 
Head is pear-shaped. Most of the head is occupied by the nucleus which has condensed chromatin and few areas of dispersed chromatin (called nuclear vacuoles). The anterior 2/3rds of the nucleus is surrounded by acrosomal cap. Acrosomal cap is a flattened membranebound vesicle containing glycoproteins and enzymes. These enzymes are required for separation of cells of corona radiata and dissolution of zona pellucida of ovum during fertilization.
 
Neck is a very short segment that connects the head and the tail. Centriole in the neck gives rise to axoneme of the flagellum. Axoneme consists of 20 microtubules (arranged as a central pair surrounded by 9 peripheral doublets) and is surrounded by condensed fibrous rings.
 
Middle piece is the first part of the tail and consists of central axoneme surrounded by coarse longitudinal fibers. These are surrounded by elongated mitochondria that provide energy for movement of tail.
 
Principle or main piece constitutes most of the tail and is composed of axoneme that is surrounded by 9 coarse fibers. This central core is surrounded by many circularly arranged fibrous ribs.
 
Endpiece is the short tapering part composed of only axoneme.
 
Normally, > 30% of spermatozoa should show normal morphology (WHO, 1999). The defects in morphology that are associated with infertility in males include defective mid-piece (causes reduced motility), an incomplete or absent acrosome (causes inability to penetrate the ovum), and giant head (defective DNA condensation).
 
Box 832.1 Normal sperm morphology
• Total length of sperm: About 60 μ
• Total length of sperm: About 60 μ
• Head:
   – Length: 3-5 μ
   – Width: 2-3 μ
   – Thickness: 1.5 μ
• Neck: Length: 0.3 μ
• Middle piece:
   – Length: 3-5 μ
   – Width: 1.0 μ
• Principal piece:
   – Length: 40-50 μ
   – Width: 0.5 μ
• End piece: 4-6 μ
 
Abnormal morphology (Figure 832.3): WHO morphological classification of human spermatozoa (1999) is given below:
 
  1. Normal sperm
  2. Defects in head:
    • Large heads
    • Small heads
    • Tapered heads
    • Pyriform heads
    • Round heads
    • Amorphous heads
    • Vacuolated heads (> 20% of the head area occupied by vacuoles)
    • Small acrosomes (occupying < 40% of head area)
    • Double heads
  3. Defects in neck:
    • Bent neck and tail forming an angle >90° to the long axis of head
  4. Defects in middle piece:
    • Asymmetric insertion of midpiece into head
    • Thick or irregular midpiece
    • Abnormally thin midpiece
  5. Defects in tail:
    • Bent tails
    • Short tails
    • Coiled tails
    • Irregular tails
    • Multiple tails
    • Tails with irregular width
  6. Pin heads: Not to be counted
  7. Cytoplasmic droplets
    • > 1/3rd the size of the sperm head
  8. Precursor cells: Considered abnormal
 
Figure 832.3 Abnormal morphological sperm forms
Figure 832.3 Abnormal morphological sperm forms: (1) Normal sperm, (2) Large head, (3) Small head, (4) Tapered head, (5) Pyriform head, (6) Round head, (7) Amorphous head, (8) Vacuoles in head, (9) Round head without acrosome, (10) Double head, (11) Pin head, (12) Round head without acrosome and thick midpiece, (13) Coiled tail, and (14) Double tail

ROUND CELLS
 
Round cells on microscopic examination may be white blood cells or immature sperm cells. Special stain (peroxidase or Papanicolaou) is required to differentiate between them. White blood cells >1 million/ml indicate presence of infection. Presence of large number of immature sperm cells indicates spermatogenesis dysfunction at the testicular level.
Biochemical markers (Table 831.1) can be measured in semen to test the secretions of accessory structures. These include fructose (seminal vesicles), zinc, citric acid or acid phosphatase (prostate), and α-glucosidase or carnitine (epididymis).
 
Table 831.1 Biochemical variables of semen analysis (World Helath Organization, 1992)
1. Total fructose (seminal vesicle marker) ≥13 μmol/ejaculate
2. Total zinc (Prostate marker) ≥2.4 μmol/ejaculate
3. Total acid phosphatase (Prostate marker) ≥200U/ejaculate
4. Total citric acid (Prostate marker) ≥52 μmol/ejaculate
5. α-glucosidase (Epididymis marker) ≥20 mU/ejaculate
6. Carnitine (Epididymis marker) 0.8-2.9 μmol/ejaculate
 
TEST FOR FRUCTOSE
 
Resorcinol method is used for detection of fructose. In this test, 5 ml of resorcinol reagent (50 mg resorcinol dissolved in 33 ml concentrated hydrochloric acid; dilute up to 100 ml with distilled water) is added to 0.5 ml of seminal fluid. The mixture is heated and brought to boil. If fructose is present, a red-colored precipitate is formed within 30 seconds.
 
Absence of fructose indicates obstruction proximal to seminal vesicles (obstructed or absent vas deferens) or a lack of seminal vesicles. In a case of azoospermia, if fructose is absent, it is due to the obstruction of ejaculatory ducts or absence of vas deferens, and if present, azoospermia is due to failure of testes to produce sperm.
Examination is carried out after liquefaction of semen that occurs usually within 20-30 minutes of ejaculation.
 
1. VISUAL APPEARANCE
 
Normal semen is viscous and opaque gray-white in appearance. After prolonged abstinence, it appears slightly yellow.
 
 
Immediately following ejaculation, normal semen is thick and viscous. It becomes liquefied within 30 minutes by the action of proteolytic enzymes secreted by prostate. If liquefaction does not occur within 60 minutes, it is abnormal. The viscosity of the sample is assessed by filling a pipette with semen and allowing it to flow back into the container. Normal semen will fall drop by drop. If droplets form ‘threads’ more than 2 cm long, then viscosity is increased. Increased semen viscosity affects sperm motility and leads to poor invasion of cervical mucus; it results from infection of seminal vesicles or prostate.
 
3. VOLUME
 
Volume of ejaculated semen sample should normally be > 2 ml. It is measured after the sample has liquefied. Volume < 2.0 ml is abnormal, and is associated with low sperm count.
 
4. pH
 
A drop of liquefied semen is spread on pH paper (of pH range 6.4-8.0) and pH is recorded after 30 seconds. Normal pH is 7.2 to 8.0 after 1 hour of ejaculation. The portion of semen contributed by seminal vesicles is basic, while portion from prostate is acidic. Low pH (< 7.0) with absence of sperms (azoospermia) suggests obstruction of ejaculatory ducts or absence of vas deferens. Low pH is usually associated with low semen volume (as most of the volume is supplied by seminal vesicles).

This includes examination of material obtained from vagina, stains from clothing, skin, hair, or other body parts for semen. This is carried out in cases of alleged rape or sexual assault.

Collection of Sample

  • Vagina: Direct aspiration or saline lavage
  • Clothing: When scanned with ultraviolet light, semen produces green white fluorescence. A small piece (1 m2) of clothing from stained portion is soaked in 1-2 ml of physiologic saline for 1 hour. A similar piece of clothing distant from the stain is also soaked in saline as a control.

LABORATORY PROCEDURES

1. MICROSCOPIC EXAMINATION FOR SPERMS

Presence of motile sperms in vaginal fluid indicates interval of < 8 hours. Smears prepared from collected samples are stained and examined for the presence of sperms.

2. ACID PHOSPHATASE

Acid phosphatase is determined on vaginal or clothing samples. Due to the high level of acid phosphatase in semen, its presence indicates recent sexual intercourse. Level of ≥50 U/sample is considered as positive evidence of semen.

3. DETERMINATION OF BLOOD GROUP SUBSTANCES

When semen is positively identified in vaginal fluid or other sample, test can be carried out for the presence of blood group substances in the same sample. The ‘secretor’ individuals (80% individuals are secretors) will secrete the blood group substances in body fluids, including semen.

4. FLORENCE TEST

This test detects the presence of choline found in high concentration in semen. To several drops of sample, add equal volume of reagent (iodine 2.54 g, potassium iodide 1.65 g, distilled water 30 ml); in positive test rhombic or needle-like crystals of periodide of choline form. False-positive tests can occur due to high choline content of some other body fluids.

1. MICROSCOPIC EXAMINATION OF URINARY SEDIMENT

Definition of microscopic hematuria is presence of 3 or more number of red blood cells per high power field on microscopic examination of urinary sediment in two out of three properly collected samples. A small number of red blood cells in urine of low specific gravity may undergo lysis, and therefore hematuria may be missed if only microscopic examination is done. Therefore, microscopic examination of urine should be combined with a chemical test.

2. CHEMICAL TESTS

These detect both intracellular and extracellular hemoglobin (i.e. intact and lysed red cells) as well as myoglobin. Heme proteins in hemoglobin act as peroxidase, which reduces hydrogen peroxide to water. This process needs a hydrogen donor (benzidine, orthotoluidine, or guaiac). Oxidation of hydrogen donor leads to development of a color (Figure 828.1). Intensity of color produced is proportional to the amount of hemoglobin present.

Chemical tests are positive in hematuria, hemoglobinuria, and myoglobinuria.

Figure 828.1 Principle of chemical test for red cells
Figure 828.1 Principle of chemical test for red cells, hemoglobin, or myoglobin in urine

Benzidine Test

Make saturated solution of benzidine in glacial acetic acid. Mix 1 ml of this solution with 1 ml of hydrogen peroxide in a test tube. Add 2 ml of urine. If green or blue color develops within 5 minutes, the test is positive.

Orthotoluidine Test

In this test, instead of benzidine, orthotoluidine is used. It is more sensitive than benzidine test.

Reagent Strip Test

Various reagent strips are commercially available which use different chromogens (o-toluidine, tetramethylbenzidine).

Causes of false-positive tests:

  • Contamination of urine by menstrual blood in females
  • Contamination of urine by oxidizing agent (e.g. hypochlorite or bleach used to clean urine containers), or microbial peroxidase in urinary tract infection.

Causes of false-negative tests:

  • Presence of a reducing agent like ascorbic acid in high concentration: Microscopic examination for red cells is positive but chemical test is negative.
  • Use of formalin as a preservative for urine

Evaluation of positive chemical test for blood is shown in Figure 828.2.

Figure 828.2 Evaluation of positive chemical test for blood in urine
Figure 828.2 Evaluation of positive chemical test for blood in urine
Have you ever wondered, what is your physiological age? Is it more or less than your chronological age? Physiological age determines a person’s health condition. Are we able to determine physiological age? You would think the answer is NO. but it can be done by determining telomere’s length. “Telomere is a repetitive nucleotide sequence (having no meaningful information) at each end of chromosome to protect DNA from deterioration and or from fusion with other chromosomes.” This sequence is about 3000-15000 base pairs in length. In vertebrates this repeated sequence is TTAGGG.
 
Significance of Telomeres
 
Cells divide and increase their number, DNA duplication also occurs. Enzymes involved in this duplication process, can’t continue duplication all the way to the end so some part of DNA is lost and chromosome is shortened. This lost part is some base pairs of telomere. Somatic cells lose about 50-100 nucleotides on each cell division. In this way, telomeres, having no meaningful information, act as CAPS preventing the important information (DNA) from deterioration and preserve the critical information. Telomeres are never tied to each other which allows chromosomes to remain segregate. Without telomeres, chromosomes would fuse with each other. Telomere Shortening Telomeres shorten because of the two major factors:
 
  1. End replication problem in eukaryotes accounts for loss of 20 base pairs per cell division.
  2. Oxidative stress accounts for loss of 50-100 base pairs per cell division.
 
Figure 827.1
 
Oxidative stress in the body depends on lifestyle factors. Smoking, poor diet and stress can cause increase in oxidative stress. With each cell division telomeres shorten, so there are limited number of divisions that a cell can undergo, this limit is called Hayflick Limit. This is to prevent the loss of vital DNA information and to prevent production of abnormal cells. When a cell reaches this limit it undergoes apoptosis that is a programmed cell death. Telomere Lengthening to reverse telomere shortening, there is an enzyme named Telomerase that adds telomere sequence nucleotides and replenish the lost telomere nucleotides. Telomerase activity is not present in all cells. It is almost absent in somatic cells including; lung, liver, kidney cells, adult tissues, cardiac and skeletal muscles etc. In the presence of telomerase enzyme, a cell can divide to unlimited extent without ageing giving rise to tumors. That’s why it is found only in some cells in considerable concentration including germline cells and stem cells. These cells don’t show signs of ageing.
 
Figure 827.3
 
Relation between Telomere’s Shortening and Ageing
 
Figure 827.2It is still controversial that whether telomere shortening is a reason of ageing or is a sign of ageing just like grey hair. Whatever it is, the thing is, it determines your physiological age because ageing cells mean an ageing body. Telomere shortening is related with poor lifestyle. People who are active and have a healthy lifestyle have the same telomere length as someone 10 years younger than them has. Depression causes increase in oxidative stress in the body so the higher the stress, the shorter the telomere is Link between Telomeres and Cancer “Cancer in general is defined as an uncontrollable rapid growth of cells.”
 
What causes these cells to grow uncontrollably?
 
These cells have active telomerase enzyme, which doesn’t let the telomere to shorten, so no Hayflick limit reaches and cell continues to divide. This is the reason why telomerase is not used as an anti-ageing medicine because it has potential to turn normal body cells into cancerous cells. Without telomerase activity cancer cells activity would stop, which is an under research treatment for cancer. However, drugs inhibiting telomerase activity, can interfere with normal functioning of cells that require telomerase. In healthy female breast there is a portion of cells named, luminal progenitors, with critically short telomere length. In these cells telomerase becomes active causing these cells to turn into cancer cells on higher activity. To tackle breast cancer, use of telomerase inhibiting drugs should be practiced. Telomere biology is very important for understanding cancer biology and scientists are working hard on it.
 
 
Reviewed by Dr. Nida Hayat Khan
Editor @ BioScience.pk 

The chemical examination is carried out for substances in urine are listed below:

  • Proteins
  • Glucose
  • Ketones
  • Bilirubin
  • Bile salts
  • Urobilinogen
  • Blood
  • Hemoglobin
  • Myoglobin
  • Nitrite or leukocyte esterase

PROTEINS

Normally, kidneys excrete scant amount of protein in urine (up to 150 mg/24 hours). These proteins include proteins from plasma (albumin) and proteins derived from urinary tract (Tamm-Horsfall protein, secretory IgA, and proteins from tubular epithelial cells, leucocytes, and other desquamated cells); this amount of proteinuria cannot be detected by routine tests.

(Tamm-Horsfall protein is a normal mucoprotein secreted by ascending limb of the loop of Henle).

Proteinuria refers to protein excretion in urine greater than 150 mg/24 hours in adults.

Causes of Proteinuria

Box 826.1: Causes of proteinuria
  • Glomerular proteinuria
  • Tubular proteinuria
  • Overflow proteinuria
  • Hemodynamic (functional) proteinuria
  • Post-renal proteinuria

Causes of proteinuria can be grouped as shown in Box 826.1.

  • Glomerular proteinuria: Proteinuria due to increased permeability of glomerular capillary wall is called as glomerular proteinuria.

    There are two types of glomerular proteinuria: selective and nonselective. In early stages of glomerular disease, there is increased excretion of lower molecular weight proteins like albumin and transferrin. When glomeruli can retain larger molecular weight proteins but allow passage of comparatively lower molecular weight proteins, the proteinuria is called as selective. With further glomerular damage, this selectivity is lost and larger molecular weight proteins (γ globulins) are also excreted along with albumin; this is called as nonselective proteinuria.

    Selective and nonselective proteinuria can be distinguished by urine protein electrophoresis. In selective proteinuria, albumin and transferrin bands are seen, while in nonselective type, the pattern resembles that of serum (Figure 826.1).

    • Massive proteinuria (>3.5 gm/24 hr)
    • Hypoalbuminemia (<3.0 gm/dl)
    • Generalised edema
    • Hyperlipidemia (serum cholesterol >350 mg/dl)
    • Lipiduria
    Causes of glomerular proteinuria are glomerular diseases that cause increased permeability of glomerular basement membrane. The degree of glomerular proteinuria correlates with severity of disease and prognosis. Serial estimations of urinary protein are also helpful in monitoring response to treatment. Most severe degree of proteinuria occurs in nephrotic syndrome (Box 826.2).

  • Tubular proteinuria: Normally, glomerular membrane, although impermeable to high molecular weight proteins, allows ready passage to low molecular weight proteins like β2-microglobulin, retinol-binding protein, lysozyme, α1-microglobulin, and free immunoglobulin light chains. These low molecular weight proteins are actively reabsorbed by proximal renal tubules. In diseases involving mainly tubules, these proteins are excreted in urine while albumin excretion is minimal.

    Urine electrophoresis shows prominent α- and β-bands (where low molecular weight proteins migrate) and a faint albumin band (Figure 826.1).

    Tubular type of proteinuria is commonly seen in acute and chronic pyelonephritis, heavy metal poisoning, tuberculosis of kidney, interstitial nephritis, cystinosis, Fanconi syndrome and rejection of kidney transplant.

    Purely tubular proteinuria cannot be detected by reagent strip test (which is sensitive to albumin), but heat and acetic acid test and sulphosalicylic acid test are positive.

  • Overflow proteinuria: When concentration of a low molecular weight protein rises in plasma, it “overflows” from plasma into the urine. Such proteins are immunoglobulin light chains or Bence Jones proteins (plasma cell dyscrasias), hemoglobin (intravascular hemolysis), myoglobin (skeletal muscle trauma), and lysozyme (acute myeloid leukemia type M4 or M5).

  • Hemodynamic proteinuria: Alteration of blood flow through the glomeruli causes increased filtration of proteins. Protein excretion, however, is transient. It is seen in high fever, hypertension, heavy exercise, congestive cardiac failure, seizures, and exposure to cold.

    Postural (orthostatic) proteinuria occurs when the subject is standing or ambulatory, but is absent in recumbent position. It is common in adolescents (3-5%) and is probably due to lordotic posture that causes inferior venacaval compression between the liver and vertebral column. The condition disappears in adulthood. Amount of proteinuria is <1000 mg/day. First-morning urine after rising is negative for proteins, while another urine sample collected after patient performs normal activities is positive for proteins. In such patients, periodic testing for proteinuria should be done to rule out renal disease.

  • Post-renal proteinuria: This is caused by inflammatory or neoplastic conditions in renal pelvis, ureter, bladder, prostate, or urethra.

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Proteinuria

Figure 826.1 Glomerular and tubular proteinuria
Figure 826.1 Glomerular and tubular proteinuria. Upper figure shows normal serum protein electrophoresis pattern. Lower part shows comparison of serum and urine electrophoresis in (1) selective proteinuria, (2) non-selective proteinuria, and (3) tubular proteinuria

GLUCOSE

The main indication for testing for glucose in urine is detection of unsuspected diabetes mellitus or follow-up of known diabetic patients.

Box 826.3: Urine glucose
  • Urine should be tested for glucose within 2 hours of collection (due to lowering of glucose by glycolysis and by contaminating bacteria which degrade glucose rapidly)
  • Reagent strip test is a rapid, inexpensive, and semi-quantitative test
  • In the past this test was used for home-monitoring of glucose; the test is replaced by glucometers.
  • Urine glucose cannot be used to monitor control of diabetes since renal threshold is variable amongst individuals, no information about level of blood glucose below renal threshold is obtained, and urinary glucose value is affected by concentration of urine.

Practically all of the glucose filtered by the glomeruli is reabsorbed by the proximal renal tubules and returned to circulation. Normally a very small amount of glucose is excreted in urine (< 500 mg/24 hours or <15 mg/dl) that cannot be detected by the routine tests. Presence of detectable amounts of glucose in urine is called as glucosuria or glycosuria (Box 826.3). Glycosuria results if the filtered glucose load exceeds the capacity of renal tubular reabsorption. Most common cause is hyperglycemia from diabetes mellitus.

Causes of Glycosuria

1. Glycosuria with hyperglycemia:

  • Endocrine diseases: diabetes mellitus, acromegaly, Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism, pancreatic disease
  • Non-endocrine diseases: central nervous system diseases, liver disorders
  • Drugs: adrenocorticotrophic hormone, corticosteroids, thiazides
  • Alimentary glycosuria (Lag-storage glycosuria): After a meal, there is rapid intestinal absorption of glucose leading to transient elevation of blood glucose above renal threshold. This can occur in persons with gastrectomy or gastrojejunostomy and in hyperthyroidism. Glucose tolerance test reveals a peak at 1 hour above renal threshold (which causes glycosuria); the fasting and 2-hour glucose values are normal.

2. Glycosuria without hyperglycemia

  • Renal glycosuria: This accounts for 5% of cases of glycosuria in general population. Renal threshold is the highest glucose level in blood at which glucose appears in urine and which is detectable by routine laboratory tests. The normal renal threshold for glucose is 180 mg/dl. Threshold substances need a carrier to transport them from tubular lumen to blood. When the carrier is saturated, the threshold is reached and the substance is excreted. Up to this level glucose filtered by the glomeruli is efficiently reabsorbed by tubules. Renal glycosuria is a benign condition in which renal threshold is set below 180 mgs/dl but glucose tolerance is normal; the disorder is transmitted as autosomal dominant. Other conditions in which glycosuria can occur with blood glucose level remaining below 180 mgs/dl are renal tubular diseases in which there is decreased glucose reabsorption like Fanconi’s syndrome, and toxic renal tubular damage. During pregnancy, renal threshold for glucose is decreased. Therefore it is necessary to estimate blood glucose when glucose is first detected in urine.

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Glucose in Urine

KETONES

Excretion of ketone bodies (acetoacetic acid, β-hydroxybutyric acid, and acetone) in urine is called as ketonuria. Ketones are breakdown products of fatty acids and their presence in urine is indicative of excessive fatty acid metabolism to provide energy.

Causes of Ketonuria

Box 826.4: Urine ketones in diabetes
Indications for testing
  • At diagnosis of diabetes mellitus
  • At regular intervals in all known cases of diabetes, and in gestational diabetes
  • In known diabetic patients during acute illness, persistent hyperglycemia (>300 mg/dl), pregnancy, clinical evidence of diabetic acidosis (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain)

Normally ketone bodies are not detectable in the urine of healthy persons. If energy requirements cannot be met by metabolism of glucose (due to defective carbohydrate metabolism, low carbohydrate intake, or increased metabolic needs), then energy is derived from breakdown of fats. This leads to the formation of ketone bodies (Figure 826.2).

  1. Decreased utilization of carbohydrates:
    a. Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus with ketoacidosis: In diabetes, because of poor glucose utilization, there is compensatory increased lipolysis. This causes increase in the level of free fatty acids in plasma. Degradation of free fatty acids in the liver leads to the formation of acetoacetyl CoA which then forms ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are strong acids and produce H+ ions, which are neutralized by bicarbonate ions; fall in bicarbonate (i.e. alkali) level produces ketoacidosis. Ketone bodies also increase the plasma osmolality and cause cellular dehydration. Children and young adults with type 1 diabetes are especially prone to ketoacidosis during acute illness and stress. If glycosuria is present, then test for ketone bodies must be done. If both glucose and ketone bodies are present in urine, then it indicates presence of diabetes mellitus with ketoacidosis (Box 826.4).
    In some cases of diabetes, ketone bodies are increased in blood but do not appear in urine.
    Presence of ketone bodies in urine may be a warning of impending ketoacidotic coma.
    b. Glycogen storage disease (von Gierke’s disease)
  2. Decreased availability of carbohydrates in the diet:
    a. Starvation
    b. Persistent vomiting in children
    c. Weight reduction program (severe carbohydrate restriction with normal fat intake)
  3. Increased metabolic needs:
    a. Fever in children
    b. Severe thyrotoxicosis
    c. Pregnancy
    d. Protein calorie malnutrition

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Ketones in Urine

Figure 826.2 Formation of ketone bodies
Figure 826.2 Formation of ketone bodies. A small part of acetoacetate is spontaneously and irreversibly converted to acetone. Most is converted reversibly to β-hydroxybutyrate

BILE PIGMENT (BILIRUNIN)

Bilirubin (a breakdown product of hemoglobin) is undetectable in the urine of normal persons. Presence of bilirubin in urine is called as bilirubinuria.

There are two forms of bilirubin: conjugated and unconjugated. After its formation from hemoglobin in reticuloendothelial system, bilirubin circulates in blood bound to albumin. This is called as unconjugated bilirubin. Unconjugated bilirubin is not water-soluble, is bound to albumin, and cannot pass through the glomeruli; therefore it does not appear in urine. The liver takes up unconjugated bilirubin where it combines with glucuronic acid to form bilirubin diglucuronide (conjugated bilirubiun). Conjugated bilirubin is watersoluble, is filtered by the glomeruli, and therefore appears in urine.

Detection of bilirubin in urine (along with urobilinogen) is helpful in the differential diagnosis of jaundice (Table 826.1).

Table 826.1 Urine bilirubin and urobilinogen in jaundice
Urine test Hemolytic jaundice Hepatocellular jaundice Obstructive jaundice
1. Bilirubin Absent Present Present
2. Urobilinogen Increased Increased Absent

In acute viral hepatitis, bilirubin appears in urine even before jaundice is clinically apparent. In a fever of unknown origin bilirubinuria suggests hepatitis.

Presence of bilirubin in urine indicates conjugated hyperbilirubinemia (obstructive or hepatocellular jaundice). This is because only conjugated bilirubin is water-soluble. Bilirubin in urine is absent in hemolytic jaundice; this is because unconjugated bilirubin is water-insoluble.

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Bilirubin in Urine

BILE SALTS

Bile salts are salts of four different types of bile acids: cholic, deoxycholic, chenodeoxycholic, and lithocholic. These bile acids combine with glycine or taurine to form complex salts or acids. Bile salts enter the small intestine through the bile and act as detergents to emulsify fat and reduce the surface tension on fat droplets so that enzymes (lipases) can breakdown the fat. In the terminal ileum, bile salts are absorbed and enter in the blood stream from where they are taken up by the liver and re-excreted in bile (enterohepatic circulation).

Further reading: Test for Detection of Bile Salts in Urine

UROBILINOGEN

Conjugated bilirubin excreted into the duodenum through bile is converted by bacterial action to urobilinogen in the intestine. Major part is eliminated in the feces. A portion of urobilinogen is absorbed in blood, which undergoes recycling (enterohepatic circulation); a small amount, which is not taken up by the liver, is excreted in urine. Urobilinogen is colorless; upon oxidation it is converted to urobilin, which is orange-yellow in color. Normally about 0.5-4 mg of urobilinogen is excreted in urine in 24 hours. Therefore, a small amount of urobilinogen is normally detectable in urine.

Urinary excretion of urobilinogen shows diurnal variation with highest levels in afternoon. Therefore, a 2-hour post-meal sample is preferred.

Causes of Increased Urobilinogen in Urine

  1. Hemolysis: Excessive destruction of red cells leads to hyperbilirubinemia and therefore increased formation of urobilinogen in the gut. Bilirubin, being of unconjugated type, does not appear in urine. Increased urobilinogen in urine without bilirubin is typical of hemolytic anemia. This also occurs in megaloblastic anemia due to premature destruction of erythroid precursors in bone marrow (ineffective erythropoiesis).
  2. Hemorrhage in tissues: There is increased formation of bilirubin from destruction of red cells.

Causes of Reduced Urobilinogen in Urine

  1. Obstructive jaundice: In biliary tract obstruction, delivery of bilirubin to the intestine is restricted and very little or no urobilinogen is formed. This causes stools to become clay-colored.
  2. Reduction of intestinal bacterial flora: This prevents conversion of bilirubin to urobilinogen in the intestine. It is observed in neonates and following antibiotic treatment.

Testing of urine for both bilirubin and urobilinogen can provide helpful information in a case of jaundice (Table 826.1).

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Urobilinogen in Urine

BLOOD

The presence of abnormal number of intact red blood cells in urine is called as hematuria. It implies presence of a bleeding lesion in the urinary tract. Bleeding in urine may be noted macroscopically or with naked eye (gross hematuria). If bleeding is noted only by microscopic examination or by chemical tests, then it is called as occult, microscopic or hidden hematuria.

Causes of Hematuria

1. Diseases of urinary tract:

  • Glomerular diseases: Glomerulonephritis, Berger’s disease, lupus nephritis, Henoch-Schonlein purpura
  • Nonglomerular diseases: Calculus, tumor, infection, tuberculosis, pyelonephritis, hydronephrosis, polycystic kidney disease, trauma, after strenuous physical exercise, diseases of prostate (benign hyperplasia of prostate, carcinoma of prostate).

2. Hematological conditions:

Coagulation disorders, sickle cell disease Presence of red cell casts and proteinuria along with hematuria suggests glomerular cause of hematuria.

Further reading: Tests for Detection of Blood in Urine

HEMOGLOBIN

Presence of free hemoglobin in urine is called as hemoglobinuria.

Causes of Hemoglobinuria

  1. Hematuria with subsequent lysis of red blood cells in urine of low specific gravity.
  2. Intravascular hemolysis: Hemoglobin will appear in urine when haptoglobin (to which hemoglobin binds in plasma) is completely saturated with hemoglobin. Intravascular hemolysis occurs in infections (severe falciparum malaria, clostridial infection, E. coli septicemia), trauma to red cells (march hemoglobinuria, extensive burns, prosthetic heart valves), glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency following exposure to oxidant drugs, immune hemolysis (mismatched blood transfusion, paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria), paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, hemolytic uremic syndrome, and disseminated intravascular coagulation.

Tests for Detection of Hemoglobinuria

Tests for detection of hemoglobinuria are benzidine test, orthotoluidine test, and reagent strip test.

HEMOSIDERIN

Hemosiderin in urine (hemosiderinuria) indicates presence of free hemoglobin in plasma. Hemosiderin appears as blue granules when urine sediment is stained with Prussian blue stain (Figure 826.3). Granules are located inside tubular epithelial cells or may be free if cells have disintegrated. Hemosiderinuria is seen in intravascular hemolysis.

Figure 826.3 Staining of urine sediment with Prussian blue stain
Figure 826.3 Staining of urine sediment with Prussian blue stain to demonstrate hemosiderin granules (blue)

MYOGLOBIN

Myoglobin is a protein present in striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac) which binds oxygen. Causes of myoglobinuria include injury to skeletal or cardiac muscle, e.g. crush injury, myocardial infarction, dermatomyositis, severe electric shock, and thermal burns.

Chemical tests used for detection of blood or hemoglobin also give positive reaction with myoglobin (as both hemoglobin and myoglobin have peroxidase activity). Ammonium sulfate solubility test is used as a screening test for myoglobinuria (Myoglobin is soluble in 80% saturated solution of ammonium sulfate, while hemoglobin is insoluble and is precipitated. A positive chemical test for blood done on supernatant indicates myoglobinuria).

Distinction between hematuria, hemoglobinuria, and myoglobinuria is shown in Table 826.2

Table 826.2 Differentiation between hematuria, hemoglobinuria, and myoglobinuria
Parameter Hematuria Hemoglobinuria Myoglobinuria
1. Urine color Normal, smoky, red, or brown Pink, red, or brown Red or brown
2. Plasma color Normal Pink Normal
3. Urine test based on peroxidase activity Positive Positive Positive
4. Urine microscopy Many red cells Occasional red cell Occasional red cell
5. Serum haptoglobin Normal Low Normal
6. Serum creatine kinase Normal Normal Markedly increased

Chemical Tests for Significant Bacteriuria (Indirect Tests for Urinary Tract Infection)

In addition to direct microscopic examination of urine sample, chemical tests are commercially available in a reagent strip format that can detect significant bacteriuria: nitrite test and leucocyte esterase test. These tests are helpful at places where urine microscopy is not available. If these tests are positive, urine culture is indicated.

1. Nitrite test: Nitrites are not present in normal urine; ingested nitrites are converted to nitrate and excreted in urine. If gram-negative bacteria (e.g. E.coli, Salmonella, Proteus, Klebsiella, etc.) are present in urine, they will reduce the nitrates to nitrites through the action of bacterial enzyme nitrate reductase. Nitrites are then detected in urine by reagent strip tests. As E. coli is the commonest organism causing urinary tract infection, this test is helpful as a screening test for urinary tract infection.

Some organisms like Staphylococci or Pseudomonas do not reduce nitrate to nitrite and therefore in such infections nitrite test is negative. Also, urine must be retained in the bladder for minimum of 4 hours for conversion of nitrate to nitrite to occur; therefore, fresh early morning specimen is preferred. Sufficient dietary intake of nitrate is necessary. Therefore a negative nitrite test does not necessarily indicate absence of urinary tract infection. The test detects about 70% cases of urinary tract infections.

2. Leucocyte esterase test: It detects esterase enzyme released in urine from granules of leucocytes. Thus the test is positive in pyuria. If this test is positive, urine culture should be done. The test is not sensitive to leucocytes < 5/HPF.

Microscopic examination of urine is also called as the “liquid biopsy of the urinary tract”.

Urine consists of various microscopic, insoluble, solid elements in suspension. These elements are classified as organized or unorganized. Organized substances include red blood cells, white blood cells, epithelial cells, casts, bacteria, and parasites. The unorganized substances are crystalline and amorphous material. These elements are suspended in urine and on standing they settle down and sediment at the bottom of the container; therefore they are known as urinary deposits or urinary sediments. Examination of urinary deposit is helpful in diagnosis of urinary tract diseases as shown in Table 825.1.

Table 825.1 Urinary findings in renal diseases
Condition Albumin RBCs/HPF WBCs/HPF Casts/LPF Others
1. Normal 0-trace 0-2 0-2 Occasional (Hyaline)
2. Acute glomerulonephritis 1-2+ Numerous;dysmorphic 0-few Red cell, granular Smoky urine or hematuria
3. Nephrotic syndrome > 4+ 0-few 0-few Fatty, hyaline, Waxy, epithelial Oval fat bodies, lipiduria
4. Acute pyelonephritis 0-1+ 0-few Numerous WBC, granular WBC clumps, bacteria, nitrite test
HPF: High power field; LPF: Low power field; RBCs: Red blood cells; WBCs: White blood cells.

Different types of urinary sediments are shown in Figure 825.1. The major aim of microscopic examination of urine is to identify different types of cellular elements and casts. Most crystals have little clinical significance.

Figure 825.1 Different types of urinary sediment
Figure 825.1 Different types of urinary sediment

Specimen

The cellular elements are best preserved in acid, hypertonic urine; they deteriorate rapidly in alkaline, hypotonic solution. A mid-stream, freshly voided, first morning specimen is preferred since it is the most concentrated. The specimen should be examined within 2 hours of voiding because cells and casts degenerate upon standing at room temperature. If preservative is required, then 1 crystal of thymol or 1 drop of formalin (40%) is added to about 10 ml of urine.

Method

A well-mixed sample of urine (12 ml) is centrifuged in a centrifuge tube for 5 minutes at 1500 rpm and supernatant is poured off. The tube is tapped at the bottom to resuspend the sediment (in 0.5 ml of urine). A drop of this is placed on a glass slide and covered with a cover slip (Figure 825.2). The slide is examined immediately under the microscope using first the low power and then the high power objective. The condenser should be lowered to better visualize the elements by reducing the illumination.

Figure 825.2 Preparation of urine sediment for microscopic examination
Figure 825.2 Preparation of urine sediment for microscopic examination

CELLS

Cellular elements in urine are shown in Figure 825.3.

Figure 825.3 Cells in urine
Figure 825.3 Cells in urine (1) Isomorphic red blood cells, (2) Crenated red cells, (3) Swollen red cells, (4) Dysmorphic red cells, (5) White blood cells (pus cells), (6) Squamous epithelial cell, (7) Transitional epithelial cells, (8) Renal tubular epithelial cells, (9) Oval fat bodies, (10) Maltese cross pattern of oval fat bodies, and (11) spermatozoa

Red Blood Cells

Normally there are no or an occasional red blood cell in urine. In a fresh urine sample, red cells appear as small, smooth, yellowish, anucleate biconcave disks about 7 μ in diameter (called as isomorphic red cells). However, red cells may appear swollen (thin discs of greater diameter, 9-10 μ) in dilute or hypotonic urine, or may appear crenated (smaller diameter with spikey surface) in hypertonic urine. In glomerulonephritis, red cells are typically described as being dysmorphic (i.e. markedly variable in size and shape). They result from passage of red cells through the damaged glomeruli. Presence of > 80% of dysmorphic red cells is strongly suggestive of glomerular pathology.

The quantity of red cells can be reported as number of red cells per high power field.

Causes of hematuria have been listed earlier.

White Blood Cells (Pus Cells)

White blood cells are spherical, 10-15 μ in size, granular in appearance in which nuclei may be visible. Degenerated white cells are distorted, smaller, and have fewer granules. Clumps of numerous white cells are seen in infections. Presence of many white cells in urine is called as pyuria. In hypotonic urine white cells are swollen and the granules are highly refractile and show Brownian movement; such cells are called as glitter cells; large numbers are indicative of injury to urinary tract.

Normally 0-2 white cells may be seen per high power field. Pus cells greater than 10/HPF or presence of clumps is suggestive of urinary tract infection.

Increased numbers of white cells occur in fever, pyelonephritis, lower urinary tract infection, tubulointerstitial nephritis, and renal transplant rejection.

In urinary tract infection, following are usually seen in combination:

  • Clumps of pus cells or pus cells >10/HPF
  • Bacteria
  • Albuminuria
  • Positive nitrite test

Simultaneous presence of white cells and white cell casts indicates presence of renal infection (pyelonephritis).

Eosinophils (>1% of urinary leucocytes) are a characteristic feature of acute interstitial nephritis due to drug reaction (better appreciated with a Wright’s stain).

Renal Tubular Epithelial Cells

Presence of renal tubular epithelial cells is a significant finding. Increased numbers are found in conditions causing tubular damage like acute tubular necrosis, pyelonephritis, viral infection of kidney, allograft rejection, and salicylate or heavy metal poisoning.

These cells are small (about the same size or slightly larger than white blood cell), polyhedral, columnar, or oval, and have granular cytoplasm. A single, large, refractile, eccentric nucleus is often seen.

Renal tubular epithelial cells are difficult to distinguish from pus cells in unstained preparations.

Squamous Epithelial Cells

Squamous epithelial cells line the lower urethra and vagina. They are best seen under low power objective (×10). Presence of large numbers of squamous cells in urine indicates contamination of urine with vaginal fluid. These are large cells, rectangular in shape, flat with abundant cytoplasm and a small, central nucleus.

Transitional Epithelial Cells

Transitional cells line renal pelvis, ureters, urinary bladder, and upper urethra. These cells are large, and diamond- or pear-shaped (caudate cells). Large numbers or sheets of these cells in urine occur after catheterization and in transitional cell carcinoma.

Oval Fat Bodies

These are degenerated renal tubular epithelial cells filled with highly refractile lipid (cholesterol) droplets. Under polarized light, they show a characteristic “Maltese cross” pattern. They can be stained with a fat stain such as Sudan III or Oil Red O. They are seen in nephrotic syndrome in which there is lipiduria.

Spermatozoa

They may sometimes be seen in urine of men.

Telescoped urinary sediment: This refers to urinary sediment consisting of red blood cells, white blood cells, oval fat bodies, and all types of casts in roughly equal proportion. It occurs in lupus nephritis, malignant hypertension, rapidly proliferative glomerulonephritis, and diabetic glomerulosclerosis.

ORGANISMS

Organisms detectable in urine are shown in Figure 825.4.

Figure 825.4 Organisms in urine
Figure 825.4 Organisms in urine: (A) Bacteria, (B) Yeasts, (C) Trichomonas, and (D) Egg of Schistosoma haematobium

Bacteria

Bacteria in urine can be detected by microscopic examination, reagent strip tests for significant bacteriuria (nitrite test, leucocyte esterase test), and culture.

Significant bacteriuria exists when there are >105 bacterial colony forming units/ml of urine in a cleancatch midstream sample, >104 colony forming units/ml of urine in catheterized sample, and >103 colonyforming units/ml of urine in a suprapubic aspiration sample.

  1. Microscopic examination: In a wet preparation, presence of bacteria should be reported only when urine is fresh. Bacteria occur in combination with pus cells. Gram’s-stained smear of uncentrifuged urine showing 1 or more bacteria per oil-immersion field suggests presence of > 105 bacterial colony forming units/ml of urine. If many squamous cells are present, then urine is probably contaminated with vaginal flora. Also, presence of only bacteria without pus cells indicates contamination with vaginal or skin flora.
  2. Chemical or reagent strip tests for significant bacteriuria: These are given earlier.
  3. Culture: On culture, a colony count of >105/ml is strongly suggestive of urinary tract infection, even in asymptomatic females. Positive culture is followed by sensitivity test. Most infections are due to Gram-negative enteric bacteria, particularly Escherichia coli.

If three or more species of bacteria are identified on culture, it almost always indicates contamination by vaginal flora.

Negative culture in the presence of pyuria (‘sterile’ pyuria) occurs with prior antibiotic therapy, renal tuberculosis, prostatitis, renal calculi, catheterization, fever in children (irrespective of cause), female genital tract infection, and non-specific urethritis in males.

Yeast Cells (Candida)

These are round or oval structures of approximately the same size as red blood cells. In contrast to red cells, they show budding, are oval and more refractile, and are not soluble in 2% acetic acid.

Presence of Candida in urine may suggest immunocompromised state, vaginal candidiasis, or diabetes mellitus. Usually pyuria is present if there is infection by Candida. Candida may also be a contaminant in the sample and therefore urine sample must be examined in a fresh state.

Trichomonas vaginalis

These are motile organisms with pear shape, undulating membrane on one side, and four flagellae. They cause vaginitis in females and are thus contaminants in urine. They are easily detected in fresh urine due to their motility.

Eggs of Schistosoma haematobium

Infection by this organism is prevalent in Egypt.

Microfilariae

They may be seen in urine in chyluria due to rupture of a urogenital lymphatic vessel.

CASTS

Urinary casts are cylindrical, cigar-shaped microscopic structures that form in distal renal tubules and collecting ducts. They take the shape and diameter of the lumina (molds or ‘casts’) of the renal tubules. They have parallel sides and rounded ends. Their length and width may be variable. Casts are basically composed of a precipitate of a protein that is secreted by tubules (Tamm-Horsfall protein). Since casts form only in renal tubules their presence is indicative of disease of the renal parenchyma. Although there are several types of casts, all urine casts are basically hyaline; various types of casts are formed when different elements get deposited on the hyaline material (Figure 825.5). Casts are best seen under low power objective (×10) with condenser lowered down to reduce the illumination.

Figure 825.5 Genesis of casts in urine
 Figure 825.5 Genesis of casts in urine. All cellular casts degenerate to granular and waxy casts

Casts are the only elements in the urinary sediment that are specifically of renal origin.

Casts (Figure 825.6) are of two main types:

  1. Noncellular: Hyaline, granular, waxy, fatty
  2. Cellular: Red blood cell, white blood cell, renal tubular epithelial cell.

Hyaline and granular casts may appear in normal or diseased states. All other casts are found in kidney diseases.

Figure 825.6 Urinary casts
Figure 825.6 Urinary casts: (A) Hyaline cast, (B) Granular cast, (C) Waxy cast, (D) Fatty cast, (E) Red cell cast, (F) White cell cast, and (G) Epithelial cast

Non-cellular Casts

Hyaline casts: These are the most common type of casts in urine and are homogenous, colorless, transparent, and refractile. They are cylindrical with parallel sides and blunt, rounded ends and low refractive index. Presence of occasional hyaline cast is considered as normal. Their presence in increased numbers (“cylinduria”) is abnormal. They are composed primarily of Tamm-Horsfall protein. They occur transiently after strenuous muscle exercise in healthy persons and during fever. Increased numbers are found in conditions causing glomerular proteinuria.

Granular casts: Presence of degenerated cellular debris in a cast makes it granular in appearance. These are cylindrical structures with coarse or fine granules (which represent degenerated renal tubular epithelial cells) embedded in Tamm-Horsfall protein matrix. They are seen after strenuous muscle exercise and in fever, acute glomerulonephritis, and pyelonephritis.

Waxy cast: These are the most easily recognized of all casts. They form when hyaline casts remain in renal tubules for long time (prolonged stasis). They have homogenous, smooth glassy appearance, cracked or serrated margins and irregular broken-off ends. The ends are straight and sharp and not rounded as in other casts. They are light yellow in color. They are most commonly seen in end-stage renal failure.

Fatty casts: These are cylindrical structures filled with highly refractile fat globules (triglycerides and cholesterol esters) in Tamm-Horsfall protein matrix. They are seen in nephrotic syndrome.

Broad casts: Broad casts form in dilated distal tubules and are seen in chronic renal failure and severe renal tubular obstruction. Both waxy and broad casts are associated with poor prognosis.

Cellular Casts

To be called as cellular, casts should contain at least three cells in the matrix. Cellular casts are named according to the type of cells entrapped in the matrix.

Red cell casts: These are cylindrical structures with red cells in Tamm-Horsfall protein matrix. They may appear brown in color due to hemoglobin pigmentation. These have greater diagnostic importance than any other cast. If present, they help to differentiate hematuria due to glomerular disease from hematuria due to other causes. RBC casts usually denote glomerular pathology e.g. acute glomerulonephritis.

White cell casts: These are cylindrical structures with white blood cells embedded in Tamm-Horsfall protein matrix. Leucocytes usually enter into tubules from the interstitium and therefore presence of leucocyte casts indicates tubulointerstitial disease like pyelonephritis.

Renal tubular epithelial cell casts: These are composed of renal tubular epithelial cells that have been sloughed off. They are seen in acute tubular necrosis, viral renal disease, heavy metal poisoning, and acute allograft rejection. Even an occasional renal tubular cast is a significant finding.

CRYSTALS

Crystals are refractile structures with a definite geometric shape due to orderly 3-dimensional arrangement of its atoms and molecules. Amorphous material (or deposit) has no definite shape and is commonly seen in the form of granular aggregates or clumps.

Crystals in urine (Figure 825.7) can be divided into two main types: (1) Normal (seen in normal urinary sediment), and (2) Abnormal (seen in diseased states).

Figure 825.7 Crystals in urine
Figure 825.7 Crystals in urine. (A) Normal crystals: (1) Calcium oxalate, (2) Triple phosphates, (3) Uric acid, (4) Amorphous phosphates, (5) Amorphous urates, (6) Ammonium urate. (B) Abnormal crystals: (1) Cysteine, (2) Cholesterol, (3) Bilirubin, (4) Tyrosine, (5) Sulfonamide, and (6) Leucine

However, crystals found in normal urine can also be seen in some diseases in increased numbers.

Most crystals have no clinical importance (particularly phosphates, urates, and oxalates). Crystals can be identified in urine by their morphology. However, before reporting presence of any abnormal crystals, it is necessary to confirm them by chemical tests.

Normal Crystals

Crystals present in acid urine:

  1. Uric acid crystals: These are variable in shape (diamond, rosette, plates), and yellow or red-brown in color (due to urinary pigment). They are soluble in alkali, and insoluble in acid. Increased numbers are found in gout and leukemia. Flat hexagonal uric acid crystals may be mistaken for cysteine crystals that also form in acid urine.
  2. Calcium oxalate crystals: These are colorless, refractile, and envelope-shaped. Sometimes dumbbell-shaped or peanut-like forms are seen. They are soluble in dilute hydrochloric acid. Ingestion of certain foods like tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, asparagus, and rhubarb causes increase in their numbers. Their increased number in fresh urine (oxaluria) may also suggest oxalate stones. A large number are seen in ethylene glycol poisoning.
  3. Amorphous urates: These are urate salts of potassium, magnesium, or calcium in acid urine. They are usually yellow, fine granules in compact masses. They are soluble in alkali or saline at 60°C.

Crystals present in alkaline urine:

  1. Calcium carbonate crystals: These are small, colorless, and grouped in pairs. They are soluble in acetic acid and give off bubbles of gas when they dissolve.
  2. Phosphates: Phosphates may occur as crystals (triple phosphates, calcium hydrogen phosphate), or as amorphous deposits.
    Phosphate crystals
    Triple phosphates (ammonium magnesium phosphate): They are colorless, shiny, 3-6 sided prisms with oblique surfaces at the ends (“coffinlids”), or may have a feathery fern-like appearance.
    Calcium hydrogen phosphate (stellar phosphate): These are colorless, and of variable shape (starshaped, plates or prisms).
    Amorphous phosphates: These occur as colorless small granules, often dispersed.
    All phosphates are soluble in dilute acetic acid.
  3. Ammonium urate crystals: These occur as cactus-like (covered with spines) and called as ‘thornapple’ crystals. They are yellow-brown and soluble in acetic acid at 60°C.

Abnormal Crystals

They are rare, but result from a pathological process.

These occur in acid pH, often in large amounts. Abnormal crystals should not be reported on microscopy alone; additional chemical tests are done for confirmation.

  1. Cysteine crystals: These are colorless, clear, hexagonal (having 6 sides), very refractile plates in acid urine. They often occur in layers. They are soluble in 30% hydrochloric acid. They are seen in cysteinuria, an inborn error of metabolism. Cysteine crystals are often associated with formation of cysteine stones.
  2. Cholesterol crystals: These are colorless, refractile, flat rectangular plates with notched (missing) corners, and appear stacked in a stair-step arrangement. They are soluble in ether, chloroform, or alcohol. They are seen in lipiduria e.g. nephrotic syndrome and hypercholesterolemia. They can be positively identified by polarizing microscope.
  3. Bilirubin crystals: These are small (5 μ), brown crystals of variable shape (square, bead-like, or fine needles). Their presence can be confirmed by doing reagent strip or chemical test for bilirubin. These crystals are soluble in strong acid or alkali. They are seen in severe obstructive liver disease.
  4. Leucine crystals: These are refractile, yellow or brown, spheres with radial or concentric striations. They are soluble in alkali. They are usually found in urine along with tyrosine in severe liver disease (cirrhosis).
  5. Tyrosine crystals: They appear as clusters of fine, delicate, colorless or yellow needles and are seen in liver disease and tyrosinemia (an inborn error of metabolism). They dissolve in alkali.
  6. Sulfonamide crystals: They are variably shaped crystals, but usually appear as sheaves of needles. They occur following sulfonamide therapy. They are soluble in acetone.
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