Chyluria

Dr Daniel J Bell et al.

Chyluria is the finding of chyle in the urine, and is due to a pathological communication between the lymphatic system and the renal tract. It is most commonly found in South-Eastern Asia, where it is due to lymphatic filariasis, but in the non-tropical world it is most commonly encountered after trauma or surgery.

In the tropics the commonest cause is lymphatic filariasis and other parasites, although it is still rare. In the Kinmen Islands in China, an area endemic with filariasis, only 0.7% population had chyluria 3.

It is a rare phenomenon outside the tropics. In the setting of renal surgery, it has been found in 3.2-5.4% patients post-partial nephrectomy. It was never found status post complete nephrectomy 1,2. No correlation has been found between the stage of the renal cell carcinoma and the finding of chyluria post surgery 2.

Most patients are asymptomatic. Patients sometimes complain of a milky appearance to the urine. If chyluria is chronic then hypoproteinemia, hypolipidemia, and immunodeficiency have been reported. Nephrotic syndrome may result.

Microscopic urinalysis shows microglobules of fat.

After nephron-sparing surgery it is thought that the normally anatomically-separate perirenal lymphatics and pelvicalyceal system may be brought into contact and a fistulous communication can result.

In filariasis the Wuchereria bancrofti parasite obstructs the renal lymphatics leading to over-spill of chyle into the urinary tract.

Its appearance has only been described on cross-sectional imaging.  In view of its lower density, the fatty chyle forms a supernatant on top of the heavier urine in the bladder, forming a fat-urine layer. 

If a CT is reviewed too hastily then the lower density fat lying superficial to the urine may be mistaken for iatrogenic gas, especially if there is a urinary catheter in situ. However on a lung window it will clearly be seen that the more superficial layer is not gas. A region of interest over the layer will demonstrate that the CT density is that of fat, and not of gas.

The typical MRI appearances of fat will be seen as a layer floating on top of the normal fluid signal urine.

Usually a conservative approach suffices. In 50% parasitic cases spontaneous remission of the chyluria occurs 3.

Occasionally however when patients experience the sequelae of chronic chyluria, such as hypoproteinemia, surgical ligation and stripping of the renal lymphatics is required.

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Article information

rID: 59681
System: Urogenital
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Bladder chyle-urine level
  • Chylous urine

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: chyluria
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