Your urine can tell you a lot about your health. Before you flush, take stock of what’s in the toilet bowl.
When taking a trip to the bathroom, you probably don’t notice your pee’s appearance or smell most of the time.
Typically our urine is made up of 95% pure water and 5% other compounds. For the most part, “normal” urine doesn’t smell if you’re healthy and well-hydrated. Additionally, urine is typically a light yellow color, similar to lemonade. (If it’s clear, you may be drinking too much water.)
However, when there’s something going on, odors can start to arise and pee may change color. Here are some changes that might warrant a trip to the doctor’s office:
Pee with a sweet or fruity scent
If your pee smells sweet or fruity, that can be a red flag that something is going on that you’ll want to see a doctor about.
“Diabetes is a condition in which the body is not able to shift sugar into the cell and thus excess sugar remains in the bloodstream,” said Dr. Katherine Klos, a board-certified urologist and Uqora medical adviser. “Excess sugar eventually makes it into your urine, causing an increase in urine volume along with a characteristic sweet scent.”
Alongside a sweet smell, you may also notice more frequent trips to the bathroom, which can also be an indication of diabetes.
An ammonia scent
You may be familiar with the scent of ammonia from cleaning products or smelling salts. If your pee starts to smell like ammonia, that may be a cause for concern.
“If urine becomes highly concentrated, a high level of waste products with minimal water, it may have a strong ammonia odor,” said Dr. Larry Orbuch, the medical director of GYN Laparoscopic Associates in Los Angeles.
Dr. Jodie Horton, chief wellness adviser for Love Wellness, also noted that ammonia-smelling pee could indicate liver disease. If this is happening to you, make an appointment with your physician.
A scent similar to rotten eggs
Nobody likes the smell of rotten eggs, and if your pee smells like them, that can be a red flag.
“The smell of rotten eggs can usually be attributed to E. coli due to its production of hydrogen sulfide,” Klos said.
More commonly, though, the rotten egg smell can also be caused by “certain antibiotics that contain sulfa,” Horton added. If you’re taking certain antibiotics or recently got off them, consider that as a possible cause.
Pee that’s red
When you’re not on your period and your pee is red, think about what you ate first: Foods like beets, blackberries and rhubarb have the potential to turn urine a reddish-pink color.
If that isn’t the case, consider calling your doctor. “Red may indicate that there is blood in your urine or that you have kidney stones,” Horton said.
Blue and green urine
Unless you’ve ingested some blue or green food dye recently, you’ll want to see a physician if your pee looks like Gatorade or a sports drink. “Green and blue urine may indicate some sort of bacterial infection,” Horton said.
When’s the last time you had some water? Dehydration is the leading cause of orange urine, which can usually be fixed with a few glasses of water. However, if your stool is light brown in addition to orange urine, that may be a sign of a bile duct issue, which you’ll want to get looked at by a medical professional.
Some other points to consider before you panic
Pee with an odor isn’t always a cause for concern. In many cases, it’s can be due to something in your diet. Asparagus is a common cause, for example.
“Asparagus contains an acid that causes a strong sulfur-like smell in your pee,” said Dr. Emily Von Bargen, a urogynecologist for Cheeky Bonsai. “Fish, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, coffee and foods containing curry can also cause a noticeable change in scent.” If the funky smell is coming from food, it should usually go away in a day or two, she added.
Additionally, there are daily habits and factors that can affect how pee smells and looks that aren’t indicative of an underlying problem. “Think about the more common factors that can impart a new scent to your urine: hydration status, diet, supplements and vitamins, and hygiene products,” Klos said. Also, holding in your pee for too long can produce a funky odor.
Overall, if the smell or color doesn’t return to normal soon, Orbuch recommends reaching out to your doctor for a formal examination. This will likely consist of diagnostic tests to determine the root cause of the odor and/or color change.
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