Human urine has been a useful tool of diagnosis since the earliest days of medicine. The colour, density and smell of urine can reveal much about the state of our health.
Most people don’t give much thought to their urine before flushing it out of sight. But the basic details of your urine colour, smell, and how often you urinate can give you a hint about what is going on inside your body.
Urine is your body’s liquid waste, mainly made of water, salt, and chemicals called urea and uric acid. The kidneys make it when they filter toxins and other bad stuff from the blood. A bunch of things in the body, like medications, foods, and illnesses, can affect how urine turns out.
If everything is normal and healthy, the colour should be a pale yellow to gold. That hue comes from a pigment the body makes called urochrome. The shade, light or dark, also changes. If it has no colour at all, that may be because you have been drinking a lot of water or taking a drug called a diuretic, which helps your body get rid of fluid. Very dark honey or brown urine could be a sign that you’re dehydrated and need to get more fluids right away. It may also be a warning sign of liver problems.
According to a medical doctor, Lekan Sunday, urine is a very useful tool in diagnosis. He said: “We use it to determine the state of health of patients to some extent. Not only can we determine protein, sugar, yeast, and bacteria levels, but we also can also use it to detect severe issues, like cancerous tumors and bladder infections, just by noticing oddities in your urine.
“But to be able to spot deficiencies, it’s crucial to first know what normal, healthy urine looks like. Generally speaking, if your urine is transparent and has a pale yellow, yellow or dark yellow colour, you’re perfectly healthy. A good rule of thumb is the darker your urine, the more water you need to drink. And if your urine is any other colour besides a various shade of yellow, something may be wrong.
“When you’re checking out the bowl, it’s also good to keep in mind that there are external factors that can influence the colour of your urine, such as medications, chemotherapy drugs, laxatives, and dyes found in certain foods. We still encourage you to bring any abnormalities to the attention of your health care provider, but don’t panic if you see blue/green urine. Truth is, you may have just had too many blueberries beforehand. Also, evaluating your urine on your own may be a good stepping stone to diagnosing a problem, but taking any suspicions to your doctor is the only way to officially determine any bodily disorders.”
There are other unusual colours that may show up, including:
Pink or red: Some foods, like carrots, blackberries, beets, and rhubarb can turn your urine a pinkish-red colour. This can also be a side effect of medications like the antibiotic rifampin or a drug for urinary tract infections (UTIs) called phenazopyridine.
Expert advised that you always check with your doctor if your urine is pink or red. “You might have blood in your urine. It does not always mean there’s a problem, but it can be a sign of kidney disease, a uninary tract infection (UTI), prostate problems, or a tumor.”
Despite its alarming appearance, red urine is not necessarily serious. Red or pink urine can be caused by blood, food and medication.
Factors that can cause urinary blood (hematuria) include urinary tract infections, an enlarged prostate, cancerous and noncancerous tumors, kidney cysts, long-distance running, and kidney or bladder stones.
Beets, blackberries and rhubarb can turn urine red or pink, while medicines, like
Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), an antibiotic often used to treat tuberculosis, can turn urine reddish orange, just like phenazopyridine (Pyridium), a drug that numbs urinary tract discomfort.
Orange: When your urine is the colour of a citrus-flavoured soft drink, it’s probably because of medications, like high-dose Vitamin B2, the UTI drug phenazopyridine, or the antibiotic Isoniasid. Depending on the colour, it could also be a sign that you’re dehydrated or that there’s a problem with your liver or bile duct.
Orange urine can result from medication, medical condition and dehydration.
Medications that can turn urine orange include the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine (Azulfidine); phenazopyridine (Pyridium); some laxatives; and certain chemotherapy drugs.
In some cases, orange urine can indicate a problem with your liver or bile duct, especially if you also have light-coloured stools. Dehydration, which can concentrate your urine and make it much deeper in colour, can also make your urine appear orange.
Blue or green: These hues are probably due to dyes in your food or medications you have taken, like the anesthetic propofol or the allergy/asthma medicine promethazine. “A few rare medical conditions can also turn urine green or blue, so let your doctor know if the colour does not go away after a short time,” says an expert.
Blue or green urine can be caused by dyes, medication and medical condition.
Some brightly coloured food dyes can cause green urine. Dyes used for some tests of kidney and bladder function can turn urine blue.
A number of medications produce blue or green urine, including amitriptyline, indomethacin (Indocin, Tivorbex) and propofol (Diprivan), while Familial benign hypercalcemia, a rare inherited disorder, is sometimes called blue diaper syndrome because children with the disorder have blue urine.
Usually, green urine is totally harmless and is a result of something you’ve eaten. “This is usually a result of food colouring in something you’ve eaten; it can be natural from something like asparagus or, artificial food colouring,” says Dr. Luke Powles, GP at Bupa Health Clinics.
Foamy: No matter what colour it is, you should check with your doctor if it consistently looks foamy and frothy. It may be a sign you have protein in your urine, which may mean you have issues with your kidneys.
How does urine smell!
Urine, according to experts, does not usually have a strong smell. But some foods, especially asparagus, which has a smelly sulfur compound, can change the odour, so can vitamin B-6 supplements. When you are dehydrated and your urine gets very concentrated, it can smell strongly of ammonia.
Normal urine colour varies, depending on how much water you drink. Fluids dilute the yellow pigments in urine, so the more you drink, the clearer your urine looks. When you drink less, the colour becomes more concentrated. Severe dehydration can produce urine the colour of amber, but urine can turn colours far beyond what is normal, including red, blue, green, dark brown and cloudy white.
Discoloured urine that isn’t the result of foods or medications could be caused by a medical condition that affects urine colour. Factors that put you at risk of medical conditions, which could affect urine colour include:
Age: Tumors of the bladder and kidney, which can cause blood in the urine, are more common in older people. Men who are older than 50, occasionally have urinary blood due to an enlarged prostate gland.
Family history: A family history of kidney disease or kidney stones makes it more likely that you will develop these problems. Both can cause blood in the urine.
Strenuous exercise: Distance runners are most at risk, but anyone who exercises vigorously can have urinary bleeding.
How often to empty the bladder
According to Dr. Sunday, everyone is different, but most people need to empty their bladders up to eight times a day. According to him, “that can change, depending on how much you eat and drink, especially caffeine and alcohol. It could be a side effect of medications, too. Pregnant women and older people usually have to go more often than others.”
“If you notice you suddenly have to pee more often than usual, it could be a sign of a health problem such as a UTI, kidney disease, diabetes, an enlarged prostate in men, vaginitis in women, or a problem with the wall of your bladder called interstitial cystitis.
“If you often feel that you suddenly want to and sometimes can’t get to the bathroom in time, you may have overactive bladder. It’s a common condition for older men and women, though it’s not a normal part of aging. Your doctor can tell you how to treat it with lifestyle changes and medications.
“If you notice that your urine is almost completely clear, to the point where it’s colourless and clear as water, this means that you are staying hydrated, just like you should be.
However, when your body retains too much water, it can cause an imbalance between water and sodium in your blood. At its worst, this could affect your muscles, tissue, and nervous system negatively.
So if you notice a colourless bowl, don’t go patting yourself on the back quite yet; cut down on your intake of water to get to the right level first.
Is clear urine a sign of diabetes?
Expert noted, however, that when you are thirsty or slightly dehydrated, antidiuretic hormone (ADH) levels rise. Your kidneys reabsorb more water and put out concentrated urine. If you have had plenty to drink, ADH levels fall and what comes out is clear and dilute. When your body does not make enough ADH, the condition is called central diabetes insipidus.
However, water should make up nearly two-thirds of your body, says Dr. Powles. He said: “It’s important to keep your body’s water content topped up so you don’t become dehydrated.
“This can happen when you lose more water than usual. For example, if you have a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea, or don’t drink enough.
“Most people need about 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid a day, which is about eight to 10 glasses. One thing to remember is that you should be drinking water, so drinks like sugar-free cordial and herbal teas will help contribute, while caffeinated, fizzy and alcoholic drinks don’t count – they can be full of sugar and can dehydrate you even more.”
As a rule, dark urine tends to indicate that you’re lacking water. According to Powles, “the darker your urine the more your body is in need of fluids. If your urine is dark yellow, I’d grab a glass of water when you can – and if it is amber grab two!”
Foods that can change the colour of urine
Some people said that if you eat too many carrots you will turn orange. That could potentially happen, but it is more common with your urine, according to LiveScience. Eating carrots can darken your urine, so it turns orange.
It is not just solid foods that impact your urine. Drinks can also change things. Tea can turn your urine into more of an amber colour. Red urine reports that this is because caffeinated teas can cause dehydration, which makes your urine to become more concentrated. Fava beans are not exactly at the top of the must-eat list, but if you want to turn your urine a muted brown colour, grab a bowl of the beans and get eating.
When to see your doctor
“Any time you see a change in your urine that does not seem linked to new medications or a recent meal, especially if the change lasts more than a day or so, or if it comes with a fever, back or side pain, vomiting, feeling very thirsty, or discharge, seek medical attention. Your doctor can test your urine to see what is going on,” an expert said.