Epithelial Cells: Definition, Types, Function, Related Diseases, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

There are 4 types of tissues in our body, which are grouped by different cells: epithelial, connective, muscular and nervous.

Before talking about epithelial cells, it is known that the human body is made up of cells that, when grouped together, work together to perform a certain function and are called tissues.

The connective tissue has fibers composed of collagen and elastin, supporting, filling and transporting substances in the body.

Muscle tissue is responsible for contraction, with innervation and vascularization. Nervous tissue is made up of neurons, that is, the cells responsible for the transmission of nerve impulses.

What are epithelial cells?

Epithelial cells make up epithelial tissue, one of the main tissues of the human body , and they are grouped closely together, with almost no substances between them, and they do not have blood vessels. There are different types of epithelial cells, each with its own function.

This type of tissue covers the body and forms the glands, which is why it is divided into 2 groups: lining epithelial tissue and glandular epithelial tissue.

Types of epithelial tissue

Lining Epithelial Tissue

The epithelial lining tissue, as the name itself says, covers our body externally, covering the surfaces, tubes and cavities of the organism, being found in the (o):

  • The skin.
  • Digestive tract (stomach and intestine), respiratory and urinary (kidney).
  • Mouth and nose

Granular Epithelial Tissue

The glandular epithelial tissue forms the glands, structures that make secretions and can be differentiated as endocrine (they release secretion within the body, into the blood) and exocrine (they release secretions outside the body, into cavities), such as:

  • Hormones
  • Gastric juices.
  • Saliva.
  • Tear
  • Sweat.

What are epithelial cells for?

Epithelial cells, as already mentioned above, have different functions, each with its respective responsibility.

The epithelial lining tissue protects the body through the skin from external agents, absorbs necessary substances, perceives sensations through the skin and cavities, which guarantee the perception of some stimuli (touch, smell, vision, palate, hearing) and produces keratin, important in waterproofing and protecting small wounds.

The epithelial cells present in the kidneys, for example, help these organs to filter substances present in the blood.

It is very common for them to show up in urine tests as “peeling epithelial cells” which, when in high numbers, can indicate the presence of a urinary or uterine infection, or even cancer in the colon of the uterus.

The glandular epithelial tissue synthesizes, stores and secretes proteins (pancreas, for example), lipids (sebaceous and adrenal glands) or groups formed by proteins and carbohydrates (salivary glands, for example), essential for the body.

Milk, in turn, is made up of the three substances, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, being secreted by the mammary glands.

Are there types of specialized epithelial cells?

Epithelial cells can also be divided into:

Neuroepithelial cells

It is a set of cells responsible for capturing stimuli, such as taste and smell that comes from the external environment.

They are actuated in a sensory way through organs such as the ear, nose and mouth, in conjunction with the lining epithelial tissue.

Myoepithelial cells

It is a set of cells responsible for the production and release of secretions, in addition to contraction, acting on the parts that secrete substances in the salivary, sweat and breast glands.

It works in conjunction with the glandular epithelial tissue, synthesizing, storing and secreting proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.

Epithelial cells in urine

Understand your test results

A urine test may show that you have “few,” “moderate,” or “many” epithelial cells in your urine.

Epithelial cells naturally shed from your body. It is normal to have one to five squamous epithelial cells per high-power field in the urine. Having a moderate number or many cells can indicate:

  • A yeast or urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Kidney or liver disease.
  • Certain types of cancer.

The type of epithelial cells in the urine can also indicate certain conditions.

For example, epithelial cells that contain a large amount of hemoglobin or blood particles may mean that you recently had red blood cells or hemoglobin in your urine, even if they were not there during urinalysis.

More than 15 renal tubular epithelial cells per high-power field may mean that your kidney is not working properly.

Squamous epithelial cells in the urine may mean that the sample is contaminated.

A urinalysis that finds squamous epithelial cells in the urine is not the norm. This is because the clean capture method of obtaining a urine sample generally prevents squamous epithelial cells from appearing in the urine.

When using the clean catch technique, you will be given a sterilizing cloth to clean the area around the vagina or penis before the urine sample is given. This prevents contaminants from your skin, such as epithelial cells, from showing up in your sample.

Your doctor can help you understand your test results and if you have a medical condition that requires treatment. To find a cause, the doctor may also order more tests.

Related conditions

Urinary tract infection

There are three types of urinary tract infection (UTI). Each of them affects a different part of the urinary tract:

  • Cystitis : This is a UTI that affects the bladder.
  • Urethritis : This is a UTI that affects the urethra.
  • Kidney infection: This is a urinary infection that affects the kidneys.

Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate.
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating.
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Feeling tired or sick

Doctors generally prescribe antibiotics or antiviral drugs to treat urinary infections.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease is a long-term condition in which the kidneys do not work as well as they should.

The risk of kidney disease increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • Kidney stones
  • A weak immune system.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of kidney disease.
  • An enlarged prostate.

There is no cure for kidney disease, but the following treatments can help a person manage their symptoms:

  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Drink less alcohol.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Take medicine to control blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Undergo kidney dialysis.
  • Have a kidney transplant.

Liver disease

There are a few different types of liver disease. These include:

  • Alcohol-related liver disease.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Hepatitis.
  • Hemocromatosis.
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis .

Symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Extreme tiredness or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of libido or decreased sex drive.
  • Jaundice.

Treatment for liver disease depends on the cause. If the disease is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, a doctor will help a person seek support to stop drinking.

Bladder cancer

Bladder cancer occurs when abnormal tissue grows in the lining of the bladder. It is the fourth most common cancer in men in the United States.

Bladder cancer can cause an increased number of epithelial cells in the urine. However, it is important to remember that this alone does not indicate cancer.

Symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Streaks of blood in the urine that can turn the urine brown.
  • Frequent urges to urinate
  • Sudden urges to urinate
  • Burning sensation when urinating.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Bone-ache.
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Swelling in the legs

There are many surgical and non-surgical treatments available for bladder cancer. A team of healthcare workers will help a person with bladder cancer determine the best treatment plan for them.

What are the risk factors for increased epithelial cells?

You may be at higher risk for high epithelial cell counts if:

  • Have kidney stones
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • Have diabetes
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You have a family history of chronic kidney disease.
  • You have an enlarged prostate.
  • Are pregnant
  • They are of African, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian descent.

Treating the underlying cause

Treatment will depend on the cause of the abnormal number of epithelial cells. Most UTIs are bacterial and can be treated with an antibiotic. Drinking more water can also speed healing.

For viral UTIs, doctors may prescribe drugs called antivirals.

Treating kidney disease involves managing the underlying cause of the disease, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.

Your doctor may prescribe a blood pressure medication to slow disease progression or preserve kidney function, even if you don’t have high blood pressure. Healthy diet and lifestyle changes are also important.

Your doctor may advise you:

  • Control diabetes through insulin injections.
  • Reduce foods high in cholesterol.
  • Trim the salt.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Lose weight.
  • Start a heart-healthy diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Give up smoking.

Preventing infection and disease

Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to prevent urinary tract infections and kidney disease. You should drink several glasses of water a day, but your doctor can advise what is best for you.

Drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberries can help reduce your risk of developing UTIs.

Blueberries contain a chemical that can protect against bacteria that stick to the lining of the bladder. However, there is still debate about the efficacy of this remedy in the medical community.

What is the perspective?

If a urinalysis finds epithelial cells in your urine, it is generally not a cause for alarm. It may be the result of a contaminated sample. Epithelial cells can also reveal underlying conditions, such as a UTI or kidney disorder.

Only your doctor can interpret your test results and decide the best course of action. Even then, more tests may be necessary.