Beyond the Urine Anion Gap: In Support of the Direct Measurement of Urinary Ammonium

Jaime Uribarri, David S. Goldfarb, Kalani L. Raphael, Joshua L. Rein, John R. Asplin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Ammonium is a major urinary buffer that is necessary for the normal excretion of the daily acid load. Its urinary rate of excretion (UNH4) may be increased several fold in the presence of extrarenal metabolic acidosis. Therefore, measurement of UNH4 can provide important clues about causes of metabolic acidosis. Because UNH4 is not commonly measured in clinical laboratories, the urinary anion gap (UAG) was proposed as its surrogate about 4 decades ago, and it is still frequently used for that purpose. Several published studies strongly suggest that UAG is not a good index of UNH4 and support the concept that direct measurement of UNH4 is an important parameter to define in clinical nephrology. Low UNH4 levels have recently been found to be associated with a higher risk of metabolic acidosis, loss of kidney function, and death in persons with chronic kidney disease, while surrogates like the UAG do not recapitulate this risk. In order to advance the field it is necessary for the medical community to become more familiar with UNH4 levels in a variety of clinical settings. Herein, we review the literature, searching for available data on UNH4 under normal and various pathological conditions, in an attempt to establish reference values to interpret UNH4 results if and when UNH4 measurements become available as a routine clinical test. In addition, we present original data in 2 large populations that provide further evidence that the UAG is not a good predictor of UNH4. Measurement of urine NH4 holds promise to aid clinicians in the care of patients, and we encourage further research to determine its best diagnostic usage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-676
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Kidney Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Acid-base status
  • CKD progression
  • ammoniagenesis
  • chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • kidney stones
  • laboratory testing
  • metabolic acidosis
  • renal tubular acidosis (RTA)
  • urinary ammonium excretion
  • urinary anion gap (UAG)
  • urinary net acid excretion
  • urolithiasis


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