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Decoding Urine Color, Odor, and Appearance

Posted by Disha Poonia, M.D. on Apr 6, 2019, 8:41:00 AM

It might not be a topic everyone likes to talk about, but your urine, specifically the color, odor, and appearance, can tell you quite a bit about your health from insufficient hydration to potential issues with your liver. The key is knowing what to look for, so here is some information you might find helpful when it comes to decoding the color, odor, and appearance of your urine. 

What’s a Normal Color?

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There’s a pigment in your urine called urochrome. That pigment, and how diluted or concentrated your urine is, determines the color. A normal urine color range for most people is a pale yellow to an amber color. There are causes, however, both benign (meaning not harmful) and potentially dangerous, for your urine to be a different color. 

Dark brown urine is typically the result of one of four causes: 

  • Food you’re eating (aloe, rhubarb or fava beans can cause it)
  • Medications (certain antibiotics, laxatives, muscle relaxers, or antimalarial drugs)
  • A medical condition (liver or kidney disorders, especially)
  • Extreme exercise that results in muscle injury or kidney damage 

Blue or green urine, which is more common than you might think, is often caused by dyes in food, certain medications, and medical conditions – one being a rare, inherited disorder called familial benign hypercalcemia. Occasionally, the bacteria present in urinary tract infections can cause this symptom as well. 

Orange urine is generally the result of certain medications or medical conditions. Some of those medical conditions can be as simple as dehydration, but some can also indicate that there might be a problem with your liver. 

Red or pinkish urine can be scary for patients, because most associate it with having blood in their urine. While this can certainly be the cause, foods such as beets, blackberries, or rhubarb can also make urine appear this color, as can certain medications. Blood in your urine can come from a range of reasons; kidney stones, enlarged prostate, urinary tract infections, long-distance running, and cysts and tumors – both cancerous and noncancerous – are among the list of potential causes 

Cloudy, Murky Urine Isn’t a Good Sign

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Generally, urine should be clear in appearance. Cloudy or murky urine can be caused by many conditions which require treatment by a doctor. Urinary tract infections and kidney stones are the most common causes for cloudy or murky urine, but other medical issues, such as vaginitis in women or sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, can cause your cloudy or murky urine as well and won’t get better on their own if untreated. 

Don’t Ignore Strong Odor

While urine has a characteristic odor, it shouldn’t have a strong one. In fact, any unusual odor should be brought up with your doctor; it could be an indicator of a health issue. For example: 

  • Urine with a strong ammonia odor may be a sign of dehydration
  • Foul-smelling urine typically indicates bacteria is present, which may point to a urinary tract infection
  • Abnormally sweet-smelling urine can potentially be attributed to uncontrolled diabetes

Check with Your Doctor

When it comes to urine, if anything about it seems different from the usual, it’s best to have it checked out. 

Poonia_DishaDr. Poonia is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center in Sugar Land. Her clinical interests include preventive healthcare, hypertension, diabetes, and women’s health.



Topics: urine odor, what's normal for urine, urine color, urine appearance

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