Urine color and smell can tell you a lot about your health. See how!

Urine—the color and smell can tell you a lot about your health. See how!

Your urine is an excellent diagnostic tool for your overall health and can reveal a lot about your habits and lifestyle. By paying attention to the color, smell, volume, and presence of blood in your urine, you can stay on top of your health and catch potential medical issues before they become more serious conditions.

How is urine formed?

Your body uses the nutrients that you consume for energy, and to repair your cells. Your body utilizes what it needs from your food, and the remaining waste is eliminated from the blood and bowel through urination and defecation.

Simply put, your kidneys and ureters create urine by filtering waste and water out of your blood. The resulting urine, which is approximately 95% water, is then stored in your bladder until it is voided through the urethra.

The average adult will void approximately one and a half liters of urine each day. This helps to remove excess water, as well as a form of waste called urea. Urea is formed when protein breaks down in the body and can become toxic when too much builds up.

Where is urine stored?

Urine is stored in the bladder, a balloon-shaped organ in the abdomen. It is located between the pelvic bones and can expand to accommodate an average of up to half a liter of urine. A person’s need to urinate depends on a number of factors including how quickly their kidneys produce urine to fill the bladder.

The bladder will usually stay relaxed and hold urine until a person can find a place to urinate, but some people find that this frequency increases as they age. Some people lose their ability to control when and how often they void. This is due to varying factors but often the weakening of bladder muscles (or in some cases, overactive bladder muscles), and a weakened pelvic floor.

Incontinence in older age can also be due to dementia, neurological damage, or other physical barriers that make it difficult to get to the toilet on time. Diet, lifestyle changes, and incontinence products can help sufferers maintain a high quality of life.

How much urine can the bladder hold?

On average, an adult’s bladder can hold between 250ml and half a liter of water (500ml) during the day before a person feels the urge to urinate. At night, this volume can increase to 800ml to 1 liter.

What is a normal urine output?

Most people urinate a volume that roughly corresponds to how much liquid they have consumed. This is usually between 1.5 to 2 liters in a 24-hour period.

A urine volume that is too high or too low can signal a medical problem. For instance, if you are voiding too much liquid, it can be a sign of a medical condition called polyuria, where the body produces and passes an abnormal amount of urine. If you aren’t voiding enough, it could signal other problems with your kidneys.

If you are concerned about your urine output and worried that it is too low or too large (compared to how much water you are drinking), you should measure its volume. Urinate into a large measuring jug to calculate, and report the results back to your doctor.

What color should your urine be?

Ideally, your urine should be a pale yellow color, similar to that of straw. If it is a darker shade than bright yellow, it can signal dehydration or a more serious medical problem; it should be monitored.

Some medications, vitamins, foods, and drinks can cause urine to be an unusual color.

Why can your urine be pink or red?

Dyes in food and medications are the most common reason why your urine might appear pink or red. Beets, rhubarb, and blackberries can all be the culprit, as can certain antibiotics and laxatives. Blood can also make your urine red or pink. There can be a number of reasons why blood is found in urine, the most common being UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections). However, other reasons can be due to cysts, kidney issues, cancerous and benign tumors, or an enlarged prostate. This is explained further in the article.

Why can your urine be orange?

Certain medications, such as sulfasalazine (used to treat symptoms of ulcerative colitis) and phenazopyridine (used to treat some painful urinary symptoms), can cause orange urine, as can some laxatives and chemotherapy drugs. Orange urine can also be a symptom with your liver or bile duct. If this is accompanied by light-colored stools and pale skin, you should see the GP as soon as possible.

Why can your urine be green or blue?

It might be alarming to see green or blue urine in the toilet, but it could be as simple as dyes in your food or drink. Medications, such as amitriptyline, indomethacin (‘a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), and propofol (an intravenous anesthetic), can also cause these hues. An inherited medical condition called familial benign hypercalcemia can cause blue urine, while UTIs caused by the pseudomonas bacteria can make your urine green.

Why can your urine be cloudy?

Similar to foamy urine, cloudy urine can happen when you are mildly dehydrated; if this is the case, it will usually resolve itself quickly. However, there are also some more serious causes that result in crystalline substances and/or excess protein in the urine.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause pus and blood to occur in the urine, as can vaginitis, thrush, and other STIs, including gonorrhea. In women, normal vaginal discharge can mix with the urine, giving it a cloudy appearance. Some of the most common causes of cloudy urine include:

  • Calcium Pyrophosphate Crystals

  • Bladder Stones

  • Uric Acid Crystals (Hyperuricemia)

  • Glomerulonephritis

  • Nephrotic Syndrome

  • Retrograde Ejaculation

  • Urethritis

  • Goodpasture’s Syndrome

What causes foamy urine?

Your urine could appear foamy for many different reasons, from disease to diet to other lifestyle factors.

Having a full bladder and expelling urine quickly is the most common reason you might see bubbles and foam in the toilet. This is nothing to worry about. However, if this persists and you experience any of the other following symptoms, you should see your GP.

  • Swelling of the hands, feet, abdomen, and face, which can signal fluid building up in your body

  • Fatigue and trouble sleeping

  • Loss of appetite, vomiting, and/or nausea

  • An increase or decrease in how much urine you void

  • Dark or cloudy urine

  • Male infertility

  • Dry orgasms with little or no semen (for men)

A kidney disease called proteinuria can allow too much protein to enter into the bladder and urine supply. It can signal chronic kidney disease or end-stage renal disease and is very serious. Speak to your GP as soon as possible.

What causes dark urine?

Urine is normally pale yellow to dark amber in color. This hue is caused by a pigment in the body called urochrome. When your urine is more concentrated, the urochrome can appear brighter and darker.

However, in some cases, your urine can appear darker because of dyes and compounds in certain foods. Beets, berries, and certain beans can cause the urine to appear red. Certain vitamins cause bright orange or vivid yellow urine, and medications can cause blue, green, or red hues. Your urine might also appear orange or brown if you have blood in your urine. This can be caused by urinary tract infections, kidney stones, or serious diseases, including cancer.

What causes urine to smell?

Your urine can begin to take on a strange or unusual odor for a variety of reasons. The food you eat, vitamins you take, or common medical conditions can all alter the smell of your urine. A change in smell can also signal a more serious problem such as diabetes, so if you are concerned, book an appointment with your GP.

Eating asparagus is the most common cause of ‘strange’ or ‘funky’ smelling urine. 40% of all people have a gene that allows them to smell a chemical change in their urine after they eat this vegetable. Vitamins that contain B6 can cause your urine to smell strong and of minerals, and being severely dehydrated can make urine smell of ammonia. If your urine is smelly, it can also signal one of the following serious issues:

  • Type 2 Diabetes

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Cystitis

  • Ketonuria (excess ketones in the urine) causes urine to smell of ammonia

  • Maple syrup urine disease causes sweet smelling urine

  • Metabolic disorder

  • Liver failure

  • Gastrointestinal-bladder fistula

  • Chlamydia or trichomoniasis causes foul-smelling urine

  • Trimethylaminuria causes the urine to smell like rotten eggs

What does blood in your urine mean?

Blood in your urine is always a cause for concern, and you should always consult your GP if you experience this symptom. It can be caused by a urinary tract infection, kidney infection, cystitis, and other STIs, including gonorrhea. For women, vaginitis and thrush can also cause blood to appear in the urine. These are usually painful conditions. However, if you see blood in your urine with no accompanying pain, it can be a symptom of a more serious underlying cause, including bladder cancer.

Why can it sometimes be painful or burn when you urinate?

Painful or burning urination (dysuria) is a common symptom of urinary tract infections, cystitis, and certain STIs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases, including gonorrhea and chlamydia. Perfumed or harsh soaps, detergents, and bath products can also cause burning in the urethra, especially for women.

Urine color chart

You can use the above chart to help you figure out whether you are hydrated. If you are having a hard time judging this when your urine is diluted in the toilet, urinate into a clear jug in order to assess the color more accurately.

Urinary health is important for overall health

Be sure to monitor the color, volume, and frequency of your urine in order to stay on top of your health. Your urine says a lot about you!

Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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