Your urine can tell you a lot about your health and your habits. Urine is produced when blood passes through the kidneys, which filter out excess waste and water. This waste travels through tubes known as ureters and is stored in the bladder until you urinate.
Urine is roughly 95 percent water, and the rest is composed of thousands of compounds — both inorganic and organic — exiting the body.
Certain changes in your urine or urine habits, either during or after urination, may indicate that you have a medical condition. These signs often include:
The presence of abnormal amounts of certain chemicals, such as proteins, sugars, ketones, and others, can also help your healthcare provider diagnose and monitor various medical conditions.
What Do the Smell and Color of My Urine Tell Me?
Changes in the smell and color of your urine are typically harmless, but sometimes they can indicate a medical problem. Normal, healthy urine is usually mildly yellow with a slight odor. (1)
Urine can range in odor for various reasons:
- Forty percent of people can smell a change in urine after they eat asparagus, sometimes called “asparagus pee.” (2)
- Dehydration can produce an ammonialike odor. (3)
- Fruity-smelling urine can be a sign of type 2 diabetes. (4)
- Foul-smelling urine can indicate bacteria from an infection. (4)
Urine can also vary in color for a variety of reasons: (5,6)
- Clear urine is a sign of good hydration and potential overhydration.
- Pale yellow urine is an indicator of good hydration.
- Dark yellow urine is a sign to drink more fluids.
- Amber-colored urine can indicate dehydration.
- Orange urine can be caused by various foods or medications or be a sign of potential liver problems.
- Pink or red urine can be caused by foods or medications or it can also be a sign of blood in the urine.
- Blue or green urine can be caused by medications or food dyes, but it can be a sign of bacteria or the rare condition known as blue diaper syndrome, too.
- Dark-brown urine can be a sign of liver or kidney problems.
- White urine can occur when your body contains excess calcium or phosphate, or it may indicate a urinary tract infection.
You should always consult with your doctor if you notice a sudden change in the color or odor of your urine.
Learn More About What the Smell and Color of Your Urine Mean
What Causes Urine to Be Cloudy?
Cloudy urine can be an indication of a variety of medical conditions:
Dehydration Cloudy urine can indicate that you are not getting enough water and other fluids. (7)
Urinary Tract Infection Blood, pus, or excess white blood cells can cause cloudy or milky urine and can indicate that you have a urinary tract infection. (6)
Sexually Transmitted Infections STIs can produce an excess of white blood cells, which can cause cloudy urine. (8)
Kidney Stones High levels of minerals in urine can cause cloudiness and be a sign of kidney stones. (9)
Diabetes Cloudy urine can indicate that uncontrolled diabetes has damaged the kidneys. (10)
Prostate Issues An inflamed or infected prostate can lead to an increase in the amount of white blood cells or other discharge, which can cloud urine. (11)
Vaginitis A vaginal infection can increase the number of white blood cells released in urine and cause cloudiness. (12)
Why Is There Blood in My Urine (Hematuria)?
Blood in urine, also known as hematuria, occurs when red blood cells leak from your urinary tract. Blood in urine can indicate that you have an undiagnosed or untreated medical condition.
Sometimes blood in urine is visible, appearing clotlike or turning the urine pink, red, or brown. Other times it can be viewed only with a microscope (called microscopic hematuria). (13)
Conditions that cause blood in urine can include: (14)
- Bladder or kidney stones
- Kidney disease or injury
- Enlarged prostate
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney or bladder cancer
If you notice or suspect blood in your urine, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Your doctor will conduct a urinalysis and various other tests to determine the cause of the bleeding and any appropriate treatment.
What Does Painful or Burning Urination Mean?
Painful or burning urination can often be the first sign of an undiagnosed medical condition. The most common cause of painful urination is a urinary tract infection, which occurs when bacteria infect the bladder, urethra, or kidneys. (15)
Additional causes of painful urination can include: (16)
- Inflammation of the vulvar region
- Inflammation of the urethra
- Sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
- Prostate disease or prostate cancer
The most common cause of painful urination in children is irritation of the urethra from bubble bath, lotions, soaps, and other chemicals. (17)
If you experience painful or burning urination, your doctor will conduct a urinalysis and other medical tests to determine the cause of the discomfort. Behaviors such as drinking plenty of water, practicing safe sex, and avoiding chemicals that cause irritation can also prevent painful urination. (18)
What Are the Possible Reasons for Frequent Urination?
Frequent urination can be disruptive to sleep, work, hobbies, and your mood.
Frequent urination is not always a sign of a medical problem. As you age, the bladder loses some of its holding capacity and you may have to urinate more frequently. (19) Frequent urination is also common during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Sometimes frequent urination is caused by increased fluid intake, especially drinking large amounts of caffeine or alcohol. Certain medications can also increase urine output, and diuretics — such as furosemide (Lasix), torsemide (Demadex), hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide), hydrochlorothiazide and triamterene (Dyazide), chlorthalidone (Hygroton), and spironolactone (Aldactone) — are a common culprit.
Diseases affecting the urinary tract, such as a urinary tract infection, can also cause frequent urination. Infection affects the bladder’s capacity to hold urine, and it can also affect the functioning of the urethra or kidneys. (20)
Poorly managed or uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes can also cause frequent urination, when increased blood sugar causes more fluid to escape the kidneys into the urine.
Prostate problems are the most common reasons that men over 50 struggle with frequent urination. (20)
If you suffer from frequent urination, your doctor may conduct a urinalysis and other tests to determine the cause. Antibiotics are used to treat urinary infections, and there are special prescription medications used to treat an overactive bladder. Your doctor may also recommend that you reduce fluid intake before you go to bed.
How Does Your Urine Change When You’re Pregnant?
Urine changes throughout pregnancy, and monitoring your urine can help your doctor ensure both you and your baby are healthy.
A urine test can detect pregnancy around two weeks after conception by measuring increased levels of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). (21)
Urinating more frequently can also be an early sign of pregnancy and will occur throughout the first trimester. Frequent urination returns during the third trimester when the growing fetus and uterus put increased pressure on the bladder.
Pregnant women also need to drink more water, so dark and more-concentrated urine can be a sign of dehydration. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of developing urinary tract infections, which can cause cloudy urine and blood in the urine. UTIs carry increased risks to the mother and fetus during pregnancy, so it’s important to get the infection treated as soon as possible. (22)
A urinary infection can also be a sign of group B streptococcus, a bacterium that can spread to a baby during delivery and cause complications. Women are typically tested for GBS during their third trimester. (24)
Your doctor may conduct several urinalyses throughout pregnancy to test or monitor for conditions such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Learn More About How Your Urine Changes Throughout Pregnancy
Proteinuria: What Does Protein in the Urine Mean and How Is It Tested?
Proteins serve many functions in the body, but when proteins escape into urine, it can be a sign of potential kidney problems.
It’s normal to have a small amount of protein in your urine, and temporarily higher levels can be caused by exercise, dehydration, stress, fever, or cold temperatures. (25)
If high levels of protein are detected multiple times, you may have kidney disease. People with diabetes and hypertension have a higher risk of developing kidney disease, so their urine may be analyzed regularly via urinalysis.
Protein in urine can also be a sign of preeclampsia in pregnant women.
If kidney disease is caused by hypertension or diabetes, treatment will involve getting these medical conditions controlled and monitored. Treatment may also include lifestyle changes and prescription medication, including angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). (26)
Ketones in Urine: When and Why to Test for Ketones in Urine
Ketones are chemicals that are produced when the body begins to burn fat instead of sugar. Ketones in urine are often a sign of poorly managed or uncontrolled diabetes, when there is insufficient insulin to carry sugar from blood to the cells that need it. (27)
Common symptoms that accompany high levels of ketones in urine include:
- High blood sugar
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Flushed skin
You can test for ketones in urine at home or at your doctor’s office via a dipstick test. People with diabetes are advised to test for ketones more frequently when their blood glucose level is high, or when they are sick with a cold or flu. If diabetes is left uncontrolled, people can develop diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma and even death.
High levels of ketones in urine can also be a sign of an eating disorder, chronic vomiting or diarrhea, hyperthyroidism, or other medical conditions. (29)
Treatment for ketones in urine typically involves treating the underlying issue.
Leukocytes in Urine
Leukocytes are another name for white blood cells, which play an important role in fighting off infection in the body.
A small number of leukocytes in urine is considered normal, as old white blood cells will pass through the body. But if a high number of leukocytes are present in the urine, it can be a sign of potential damage to the kidneys, bladder, ureters, or urethra.
Causes of high levels of leukocytes can include: (30)
- Urinary tract infection
- Waiting too long to urinate
- Blockage of urinary tract
- Prostate issues
- Sexually transmitted infections
Leukocytes are typically measured during a urinalysis. Treatment for leukocytes in urine involves addressing whatever underlying medical condition is causing the higher levels.
Nitrites in Urine
Nitrates are inorganic compounds that normally pass through urine as waste. When nitrates become infected with bacteria, they become nitrites, which can be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Additional signs of a urinary tract infection can include frequent or painful urination, dark or cloudy urine, foul-smelling urine, fatigue, and fever. (31)
Levels of nitrites in urine are measured in a typical urinalysis test.
What Is a Urinalysis and How Is It Done?
A urinalysis is a frequently used medical test that measures the presence of various substances in urine to detect medical problems and assess overall health.
Urinalyses can be done before or prior to admission to the hospital or if there are changes in urine color, odor, or volume. They’re also frequently used for people with urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney and liver problems, and for women during pregnancy. (32)
A urinalysis involves collecting a clean urine sample via a specimen cup. The sample is then analyzed visually, with a dipstick test, and with a microscope.
During the visual exam, the color and clearness of the urine are examined.
During the dipstick exam, the levels of acidity, urine concentration, nitrites, proteins, ketones, and glucose are usually measured. (33)
In a microscopic examination, technicians look for white and red blood cells, bacteria, skin cells, crystals, and other substances that can help diagnose medical conditions. (34)
How Long Do Marijuana, Alcohol, and Other Substances Stay in Urine?
Urine drug testing is often performed to test the presence of illegal, mind-altering, or performance-enhancing substances in the urine of employees, athletes, or people on probation or parole. How long a substance can be detected in your urine can depend on a number of factors:
- The composition of the drug
- How frequently you use it
- How much you use/ingest
- Age of user
- Health condition of user
- Quality of urine drug test
A typical urine drug test can detect alcohol roughly 12 to 36 hours in urine after it is consumed, and more advanced urine tests can detect alcohol as long as three days after your last drink. (35)
How long marijuana stays in your urine will depend upon your use habits. Most drug tests measure the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. If you use infrequently, a urine drug test can detect THC as long as 10 days after use. Weed can stay in your system for two to four weeks if you use frequently and as long as a month if you use very frequently. (36)
People sometimes use synthetic urine to try to pass a urine drug test. This can carry significant consequences, as many states have made it illegal to sell or use synthetic urine to cheat on a drug test. (37)
Urine Therapy: Is Drinking Your Own Pee Good for You?
Urine therapy, or urotherapy, is a type of alternative medicine in which people use or ingest their own urine for medicinal purposes. But there is no scientific evidence that urine therapy provides medicinal value.
When you drink urine, you ingest all the waste that your kidneys have filtered out of your body. Therefore, drinking urine can make your urine more concentrated with waste, causing dehydration and kidney damage. So drinking your urine is generally not recommended as a survival technique.
What Is Maple Syrup Urine Disease?
Maple syrup urine disease is a rare genetic disorder in which an infant’s body cannot properly process amino acids found in proteins. This causes urine to have a sweet-smelling odor, much like maple syrup. It affects roughly 1 in 185,000 infants.
The more serious form of the disease can be detected in newborns, and other times the onset of symptoms is delayed until late infancy or childhood.
Additional symptoms of maple syrup urine disease can include:
- Trouble feeding
If untreated, the condition can lead to neurological damage, coma, and even death. Treatment typically involves a diet low in certain amino acids, and sometimes requires dialysis. If your family has a history of maple syrup urine disease, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling. (38)
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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