Most of the time you go to the restroom and the pee that comes out is… well, hardly notable. But then there are other days when the urine flows and your nose immediately picks up a certain funkiness.
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Consider it a whiff of information, as the smell of your urine can offer important insight as to what’s happening inside your body.
Let’s learn how to sniff out the clues with urologist Petar Bajic, MD.
What makes urine smell?
For the most part, urine carries very little odor. The reason why is simple: It’s about 95% water. The remainder amounts mostly to waste products — calcium, nitrogen, potassium and more — filtered by your kidneys.
Now if you’re dehydrated, the percentage of water in your pee drops and the filtered waste takes a more prominent role. That creates a stronger smell, notes Dr. Bajic. (Dehydration also turns your urine a darker color, but that’s a different discussion.)
It’s not just drinking, though. What you eat can affect the scent of your bladder output, too.
Asparagus is infamous for giving urine a pretty stinky sulfur smell, for instance. Fast fact: Your body converts an acid in asparagus into sulfur-containing compounds, which creates that pungent result.
Coffee drinkers also may recognize a certain brewed aroma during a bathroom break. Brussels sprouts, onions and garlic also can add a certain zest to urine.
In addition, various medications and supplements can contribute a specific scent to pee.
“This is all completely normal,” says Dr. Bajic. “It reflects the life you’re living.”
What urine odors might mean
Not every unique urine odor can be explained simply by diet, though. Sometimes, that malodourous stream serves as a warning sign of an underlying health issue that deserves attention, says Dr. Bajic.
Pee that smells like ammonia
If you detect a hint of ammonia in your urine, it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection. The odor suggests that bacteria may be swimming around in your urinary system, most likely in your urethra, kidneys or bladder.
Urine showing signs of a UTI also may be cloudy or even a bit bloody. Peeing may also become painful — a symptom made even worse by the fact that you may feel the need to urinate more often. A fever and mental confusion are other tell-tale accompanying signs.
If you have multiple symptoms, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider.
UTIs are pretty common, sending approximately 10 million Americans to the doctor every year for antibiotic treatment, says Dr. Bajic. Women and older adults are more prone to getting the infection.
Other potential causes of urine that carry the whiff of ammonia include:
- Kidney stones or kidney disease.
- Liver disease.
- Prostate infection.
- Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia. (The symptoms here are similar to a UTI, with one noticeable difference: The addition of a pus discharge.)
Now an ammonia-like odor also can be linked to dehydration and certain foods and vitamins, as mentioned previously. So if the smell pops up and disappears quickly, there’s little reason for concern. If it lingers, though, get checked by a medical professional.
Pee with a sugary or fruity fragrance can serve as a warning sign of diabetes or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), says Dr. Bajic. The sweet smell comes from your body unloading excess glucose, or sugars.
In children, particularly newborns, sweet-smelling tinkle might indicate maple syrup urine disease. This rare, life-threatening metabolic disorder prevents the body from breaking down specific amino acids found in food.
The underlying message here? Urine that smells sweet shouldn’t be ignored, says Dr. Bajic. Check in with your doctor.
There’s usually a pretty basic explanation for urine that smells a bit different. It’s just the way your body functions, says Dr. Bajic. In most cases, that funk should disappear within a day or so.
But if the smell stays and is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s something that deserves further investigation. Don’t ignore it.