Understanding Unusual Urine Color, Odor, or Appearance

Urine is one of the ways the body removes toxins and unwanted substances from the body. The kidneys work to remove excess water from the bloodstream, along with waste products from other areas of the body and other substances, which may include some medications.

The color of urine can fluctuate throughout the day. The first urine after waking in the morning is often the darkest and most concentrated, with urine lightening in color after the person begins to drink fluids through the day.

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Urine as a Way to Measure Hydration

Urine is mostly water. In fact, urine is typically around 95 percent water, with the rest being minerals, uric acid, vitamins, enzymes, and a bile acid called urobilin that gives urine its yellow color. Urine color is a reliable way to determine if enough water is being taken in during the course of a day. Urine that is a straw color or nearly colorless means adequate hydration, while darker yellow often means that the person is mildly dehydrated.

What Normal Urine Looks Like

Normal urine is clear with a slight tint of yellow, often referred to as "straw-colored." How much yellow color is present fluctuates with the amount of water in the body. A person who is well hydrated and drinks six to eight glasses of water per day typically has light-yellow urine. A person who drinks less water than they should may have a darker yellow urine. As the body holds water, urine becomes more yellow or concentrated.

A normal individual may use the bathroom six or more times a day, depending on how much water they drink during the course of the day. More water intake usually means more trips to the bathroom.

There are many reasons the color of the urine may change, or the odor associated with urination may be different than what is typical. Many causes of a change in urine color are common and not indicative of anything serious, although it can be shocking to see strangely colored urine if you do not expect it.

Signs of Urinary Tract Infection

When people start to worry about how their urine looks or smells, they are typically concerned that they may have a urinary tract infection or UTI. A urinary tract infection is an infection affecting the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. It may be present in one location, or it may be in more than one area of the urinary tract.

It is absolutely possible to have unusual-looking or unusual-smelling urine without infection being present. It is also possible to have a condition similar to a urinary tract infection in which there is bacteria in the urine but no symptoms. This condition is called asymptomatic bacteriuria.

 A urinalysis is the test used to examine the color and content of urine and can—along with a urine culture—determine if an infection is present.

Typical urinary tract infections include one or more of the following:

  • Urinary frequency: The need to go to the bathroom more frequently than usual
  • Foul-smelling urine: A foul odor is sometimes present with this type of infection.
  • Painful urination: Burning during urination and sometimes after urination may signal the presence of irritation or infection.
  • Hesitancy: Difficulty starting the flow of urine when trying to urinate
  • Cloudy urine: A urinary tract infection can cause urine to look cloudy rather than clear.
  • Bladder pressure or pain: Some individuals experience pressure or pain from the bladder, which is a few inches below the belly button, when they have an infection.
  • Back pain: Pyelonephritis, known more commonly as a kidney infection, can cause back pain (left side, right side, or both) in the area over the kidneys.
  • Fever: An elevated temperature is common during a urinary tract infection, but not always present. This can indicate increased severity.
  • Fatigue: Having any infection in the body can lead to a fever.
  • Delirium: Some people, especially older adults, can experience severe and sudden changes in their ability to think when a urinary tract infection is present. This confusion typically resolves when the infection is treated effectively, but it may take days to improve.
  • Sepsis: An untreated urinary tract infection can turn into a more serious systemic infection that moves into the blood called sepsis. This is also referred to as urosepsis and requires antibiotic treatment, often through intravenous therapy and, typically, hospitalization.

Unusual Urine Appearance

Cloudy urine: Urine can be cloudy due to sediment in the urine, from holding the urine too long before going to the bathroom, prostate problems, sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, or prostate enlargement. Infection may also result in the presence of white or red blood cells and pus, which can also cause clouding.

Foamy urine: Urine that appears foamy or bubbly is typically the result of a very forceful urine stream. That may mean "pushing" harder than usual to make urine flow, or even elevated blood pressure. If it persists over time, you might want to have a urinalysis test. Foamy urine can also be a sign of elevated protein in the urine, which can be a sign of a kidney problem.

Urine odor: There are many reasons that urine may have an odor. Dehydration makes urine stronger, which can result in an increase in odor. Certain foods, such as asparagus, can make urine smell. There are also conditions that can result in unusual urine odor, such as maple syrup urine disease, which causes the urine to smell like pancake syrup. The following are some conditions associated with particular urine odors:

  • Sweet smelling urine may indicate diabetes.
  • Musty-smelling urine is often the result of liver disease or liver failure.
  • Foul-smelling urine is usually associated with the presence of a urinary tract infection.

In general, urine odor should be concerning if it persists without explanation or is foul in nature. If it is food-related or due to dehydration, it should pass over the course of the day as you drink water and the urine returns to normal.

Blue or green urine: This is most frequently caused by the presence of food dye. Strongly colored foods, such as dark blue frosting, can result in a urine color change, as can asparagus. Green urine can also indicate the presence of pseudomonas bacteria, a very rare condition called porphyria, or dyes used for medical testing.

Some medications, including Propofol, Tagamet, methylene blue, amitriptyline, and Indocin, are known to cause a green-blue urine color. This is not typically a sign of a kidney problem, but may still be alarming to the unsuspecting patient taking these medications.

There is also a rare inherited condition that increases calcium levels and can cause blue urine: it is commonly known as "blue diaper syndrome."

Amber or brown urine: The most common cause of dark urine is dehydration, with urine darkening as dehydration worsens, but this color can also be the result of kidney disease or liver disease. Rhabdomyolysis, a condition that results from muscle damage, can also darken urine, which is often referred to as "tea colored." Fava beans and rhubarb can also cause darkened urine.

When the liver is too sick to do its job removing bilirubin from the bloodstream, the kidneys may help with the process. Bilirubin is typically removed from the body in stool and is the reason stool is brown. When the kidneys help remove bilirubin from the body, the urine is also a shade of brown.

Orange urine: The most common cause of orange urine is a medication called Pyridium. Also known as Azo in its over-the-counter formulation, Pyridium is used to reduce the symptoms of urinary tract infections. Carrots, other bright-orange foods, and vitamin C can also result in orange urine.

Pink or red urine: Pink urine can often be blamed on food intake. Beets, in particular, are known to cause urine output that ranges from pink to red in color. Blackberries and rhubarb can also produce this effect. The tuberculosis medication Rifampin and senna, a stool softener, can also result in pink or red urine.

Blood in the urine can cause a change in urine colors ranging from pink to dark red. A very small amount of blood can change the color of the urine, but blood in the urine can also be a sign of a significant problem with the urinary tract. If there is no clear explanation for why blood may be present in the urine, such as a menstrual period, medical attention should be sought with a urologist for a hematuria workup, according to the American Urological Association.

Bright-yellow urine: B12 vitamins are known to cause a bright or highlighter-yellow urine color, and beta carotene (found in foods such as carrots) can also cause this result. Sometimes the color may be more orange than yellow.

Purple urine: There is a very rare condition called purple urine bag syndrome, that, as you might imagine, is typically found in people who have a Foley catheter to assist with urine drainage and collection. Oddly enough, the purple urine only happens when a patient has highly alkaline urine and a catheter in place. The urine doesn't actually change in color—it only appears purple in the collecting bag. I f the catheter and collecting bag are changed, the urine again appears its normal color.

Porphyria, a very rare condition, can also result in a purple color.

White urine: Chyluria, or white urine, is typically caused by lymphatic fluid mixing with urine. It can also be caused by a filarial infestation, a type of parasitic disease.

Black urine: The medications Macrobid, Flagyl, and Robaxin are all known to cause black urine. The sweetener/laxative sorbitol can also result in black urine. Iron injections, used to treat certain types of anemia, can also lead to urine being black, but oral iron does not.

Black urine disease, also known as alkaptonuria, is a rare condition in which the body cannot process specific amino acids.

Fluorescent urine: In adults, fluorescence is a hallmark of ethylene glycol (antifreeze) poisoning and typically only lasts for a few hours after the poisoning. Under a black light, the urine of someone poisoned with antifreeze will glow blue if the sample is obtained in the first four hours after poisoning. In children, it can be suggestive of antifreeze poisoning, but, oddly enough, may be found in perfectly healthy children and should not be used alone to diagnose poisoning in younger patients.

A Word From Verywell

Urine color can be most helpful when trying to determine if you are drinking enough water on a regular basis. Whether it is hot or cold, sunny or rainy, the need for more fluids will show up in the color of urine. If it is darker than straw-colored, it is probably time for more water.

Many times, alarming urine colors are the result of natural or artificial food colors and are a curiosity, not a medical issue. That said, don't ignore changes in the urine: they may be a sign of a medical problem that should be addressed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you go to the doctor if your urine smells?

    It depends. Unusual smelling urine can be caused by an illness, such as a urinary tract infection or diabetes, or something you ate. For example, sulfuric compounds in vegetables like asparagus and onions can make pee smell weird. Certain medications can also give urine an unusual odor.

    If caused by something you ingesting, drinking water can often dilute the smell. If the scent does not go away, comes and goes intermittently, or is accompanied by other symptoms of diabetes, kidney disease, or a urinary tract infection, see your doctor.

  • What color is healthy urine?

    Healthy urine is pale yellow often described as straw-colored. If your urine is dark, it may be a sign that you need to drink more water.

  • What color is urine when your kidneys are failing?

    If kidneys are failing the appearance of urine can change. It may be foamy or bubbly due to an abnormal amount of protein. Kidney failure can also make urine darker and it may contain blood. Brown, red, or purple urine can be a cause for concern. 

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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