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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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The Truth About Urine

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

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

The opposite problem -- not going to the bathroom enough -- can occur when there is a blockage or infection. Or, it can be the result of bad bathroom habits. Some people -- especially teachers, surgeons, and anyone else who doesn't have time for regular bathroom breaks throughout the day -- tend to hold it in.

Delaying urination can be problematic, says Smith, who compares the bladder to a Slinky: It stretches and then contracts repeatedly, but eventually it can stretch too much to bounce back. "The bladder can develop a chronic overdistension -- a chronic emptying problem," he says.

Developing Healthy Bathroom Habits

Take good care of your bladder, and it will thank you by helping you urinate regularly. To avoid having to make too many bathroom visits, stay hydrated, but not overhydrated. Drink whenever you're thirsty, but don't feel as though you have to adhere to the eight-glasses-a-day recommendation (unless you have kidney or bladder stones, in which case you'll need to increase your fluid intake).

If you're getting up during the night to use the bathroom, stop drinking three to four hours before bedtime. Limit caffeine, which can irritate the lining of the bladder. Also watch your intake of alcohol, which can have similar effects.

Finally, don't hold it in. As soon as you feel the urge to go, excuse yourself from whatever you're doing and find a bathroom.

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Reviewed on September 09, 2011

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