Squamous Epithelial Cells in Urine: What Does It Mean?

Squamous Epithelial Cells in Urine
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Squamous epithelial cells are usually found in very small numbers in a urine sample. When looking for a urinary tract infection, doctors have to examine the type of epithelial cells that are in the urine. The presence of a large number of epithelial cells in a urinalysis test may indicate a bacterial infection, however, having many squamous epithelial cells (SECs) in urine usually indicates that the urine sample was contaminated.

There are three types of epithelial cells that can show up in urine. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, the 3 types of epithelial cells are:1

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  • Squamous epithelial cells
  • Transitional epithelial cells
  • Renal epithelial cells

Transitional epithelial cells are found in the uterus and bladder. As their name would suggest, renal epithelial cells are found in the kidneys. According to Johns Hopkins, the finding of renal epithelial cells in urine may indicate a problem with the kidneys.2

This article looks in depth at squamous epithelial cells and what their presence in a urine sample indicates. We will also examine if squamous epithelial cells could be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

What are Squamous Epithelial Cells?

Squamous epithelial cells are found in your urinary tract and are described as flat skin cells with an irregular outline. According to the Mayo Clinic, squamous epithelial cells are large epithelial cells with up to 5 nuclei.1

Although many websites say that the presence of squamous epithelial cells indicates a kidney disease, this is not the case. The Faculty of Medicine in Masaryk University says that squamous epithelial cells originate from the urethra or vagina and are commonly found in urine samples. However, it’s the presence of transitional epithelial cells that would indicate a urinary tract infection. Or, if a large number of renal epithelial cells are discovered in urinalysis, then it could indicate a viral infection or problem with your kidneys.3

Normal Range of Squamous Epithelial Cells in Urine Samples

If your urine sample shows many squamous epithelial cells, what does that mean? Should you be worried about squamous epithelial cells in urine?

According to Dr. Edgar Lerma on Medscape, the normal range of squamous epithelial cells in urine is up to 15-20 squamous epithelial cells/hpf. However, a reading of more than 15-20 SEC/hpf usually indicates that the urine specimen has been contaminated and a new sample should be taken.4

What do Squamous Epithelial Cells in Urine Mean?

Doctors carry our urine analysis to look for the presence of bacteria and germs which cause infection or disease. In fact, the absence of squamous cell from a urine sample can still be an indicator of a UTI.

Dr. Edgar Lerma on Medscape says that urinalysis checks for nitrites in the urine and leukocytes (white blood cells) in urine as well as bacteria. If bacteria are found in the urine but no squamous cells, that could be a strong indicator of a UTI.4 In fact, the journal Academic Emergency Medicine reports that the presence of a few squamous epithelial cells can better help to identify bacteria in urine samples. However, the report states that even a large number of SECs doesn’t always indicate a contaminated urine sample.5

The number of SECs, as well as the presence of other chemicals in the urine, can also help rule out UTIs. If there are a low number of squamous epithelial cells and there are no nitrates or pus in the urinalysis, then urinary tract infections can be ruled out.5

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More about urinalysis

When a doctor asks you to take a urine sample, they will look for certain indicators as to your general health. Dr. Adam Husney on WebMD says that there is a lot that the color of your urine can tell about your health.6 Also, the level of nitrites in your urine can indicate the presence of bacteria. If you have white blood cells in your urine, that could indicate an infection in your urinary tract or inflammation in your bladder.

Other factors in your urine sample that can help doctors identify specific health issues are:

How to collect a urine sample

If you must collect a urine sample, your doctor will usually give you an appropriate container to collect the urine sample. Dr. Husney says that if you need to make yourself pee to collect a sample, you should avoid consuming foods like beets or blackberries to avoid coloring your urine.

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It’s also important to avoid contaminating the urine sample with bacteria as this could cause a large number of squamous epithelial cells to show up in the urinalysis. So, it’s important to always wash your hands before and after collecting a sample. Women should clean the area around the urethra by wiping from front to back. You should also collect the urine sample mid-flow without stopping. After you have enough urine in the container, finish peeing in the toilet then close the container tightly.

Squamous Epithelial Cells and Cancer

Dr. Gary David Steinberg says that squamous cell carcinoma is a type of bladder cancer. Usually, doctors will carry out a urine test to check for blood in urine. Doctors may also include a urine culture in the tests to check for infection and the presence of cancer.7

However, blood in the urine can also be a sign of a urinary tract infection or bladder infection.

Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infection

Although the presence of squamous epithelial cells in urine isn’t by itself a sign of a UTI, many people assume that this is the case. If you think that you have a urinary tract infection, what can you do to resolve it?

Here are some natural remedies to help treat a urinary tract infection naturally:

Baking soda

Drinking baking soda water can help you reduce the painful symptoms of a UTI because it neutralizes acid in urine. The Cochrane Library reported that sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) helps to alkalize urine and can help reduce recurrent UTIs in women.8

All you have to do is mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink on an empty stomach. Drink the baking soda remedy 2-3 times a day. If your symptoms persist after 2 days, you should visit your doctor.

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Yogurt

Raw, plain yogurt contains probiotics and can help take the sting out of a UTI and help reduce vaginal itching and discomfort. The journal Drugs stated that probiotics help to increase “good bacteria” in the vaginal area and help to prevent urinary tract infections.9

You can coat a tampon in raw yogurt and place this inside your vagina. Apply the yogurt tampon 3-4 times a day to help relieve the symptoms of urinary tract infection. Also consume a few large spoons of raw yogurt several times a day to help increase “good” bacteria in your digestive and urinary tract.

You can also take probiotic supplements. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that the best-known probiotics for treating UTI are the lactobacilli strains, such as acidophilus, which is found in yogurt and kefir, as well as in dietary supplements.12

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a good all-around vitamin that helps boost your immune system and it also has a positive effect in treating urinary tract infection. Taking vitamin C when the first sign of UTI appears can help prevent the infection from getting worse. This is why raw cranberry juice is a common remedy for UTI as it contains a large amount of vitamin C and anti-oxidants that contribute to healthy bladder function.

Various studies also confirm using vitamin C for treating UTI, for example: The journal Urology reported that vitamin C may be an effective treatment for bacteria in urine.10 Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that treating a urinary infection with large amounts of vitamin C limits the growth of some bacteria and vitamin C supplements can help to do this.11 

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, taking 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 1 to 2 times daily may be beneficial for managing bladder infections and for immune support.12

Other Ways to Treat UTI

You can find other ways to treat UTI in my article on how to treat urinary tract infection (UTI) naturally, such as D-Mannose, bromelain, cranberry juice and apple cider vinegar (ACV).

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. MayoMedicalLibrarires. Use of urinalysis in the diagnosis of kidney disease.
  2. HopkinsLupus. Urinalysis.
  3. MUNI. Epithelial cells.
  4. Medscape. Urinalysis.
  5. Acad Emerg Med. 2016 Mar;23(3):323-30.
  6. WebMD. Urine test.
  7. Medscape. Bladder cancer.
  8. OnlineLibrary. Urinary alkalization for complicated urinary tract infection.
  9. Drugs. 2006;66(9):1253-61.
  10. Urology. 1997 Aug;50(2):189-91.
  11. HopkinsMedicine. Urinary tract infections.
  12. umm.edu. Urinary tract infection in women.
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