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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

The Truth About Urine

What do urine color and odor changes mean? How often should you 'go'? Find out.
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Color Changes continued...

The opposite is also true. If your urine is very pale, it means that you're either drinking a lot of fluid, or you're taking a diuretic -- a drug that forces the body to get rid of excess water.

Urine can turn a rainbow of colors, and an unusual hue isn't necessarily cause for alarm. Certain medications can turn the urine fluorescent green or blue, carrots can tint it orange, vitamins can give it a yellow hue, and an inherited disease called porphyria can shade it the color of port wine.

Seeing red is typically a sign that there is blood in the urine, but before you panic, know that a little blood can produce a dramatic color change. "What I always tell patients is it takes one drop of blood to turn a toilet bowl red," Smith says.

That said, just a little blood in the urine can be a sign of something serious, like an infection or cancer, and it warrants a visit to your doctor or urologist. If you're seeing blood and your urine is also cloudy, there's a good chance you've picked up an infection, Smith says.

 

Odor Changes

Urine normally doesn't have a very strong smell. If you get a whiff of something particularly pungent, you could have an infection or urinary stones, which can create an ammonia-like odor. Diabetics might notice that their urine smells sweet, because of excess sugar. In the past, doctors would actually taste urine for this sweetness to diagnose diabetes.

Some foods can also change urine odor. Asparagus is among the most notorious. What people are smelling when they eat asparagus is the breakdown of a sulfur compound called methyl mercaptan (the same compound found in garlic and skunk secretions). If you catch a whiff of something after eating a plate of asparagus, it means that you've inherited the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan. Not everyone has this enzyme and, therefore, not everyone can smell it.

How Often Do You Need to Go?

How often you need to go can be as important an indicator of your health as the color or smell of your urine. Most people take bathroom breaks about six to eight times a day, but you might go more or less depending on how much fluid you drink. If you're constantly feeling the urge to go and it's not because you're drinking extra fluid, causes can include:

  • Overactive bladder -- involuntary contractions of the bladder muscle
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Interstitial cystitis -- a condition that causes the bladder wall to become inflamed and irritated
  • Benign prostate enlargement -- growth of the prostate that causes it to squeeze the urethra and block the normal flow of urine out of the body
  • Neurological diseases, including stroke and Parkinson's disease
  • Diabetes

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