Bet you don't think about it all that much, but your pee color matters — and it can get pretty technicolor, too.
"Urine is basically the way the body eliminates waste, just like stool," says Piyush Agarwal, MD, professor of surgery and urology and director of the Bladder Cancer Program at The University of Chicago Medicine.
Interestingly enough, your pee can run anywhere from clear to yellow or brown and a rainbow of other hues, like orange and even blue or green.
"There are a variety of reasons why your urine might be a different color. Each color might give you a clue of what might be going on internally," Dr. Agarwal says.
Here's what you need to know about the meaning behind your urine color.
1. Clear or Yellow Urine
"Water is the predominant component of urine. The color of urine comes from a byproduct of blood cells called urobilin, which has a yellow color to it," Dr. Agarwal says.
How hydrated you are will change your pee from clear to light yellow to dark yellow and even brownish. (For instance, when you wake up after a night of not drinking any fluids, your pee may be dark.) All of those are considered "normal" pee colors.
How clear or yellow your urine is can also be caused by medications, your sleeping habits and what you're drinking.
For instance, if you're taking a diuretic medication to control your blood pressure, these work by flushing water out of your body and preventing the reabsorption of water into the kidneys, Dr. Agarwal says. The result: You may have clear urine.
Similarly, if you drink coffee in the morning, the diuretic nature of coffee can also make pee look clearer.
For a healthy person who has dark yellow urine (or even a bit brownish), this probably isn't a reason to worry, Dr. Agarwal says. "You're probably dehydrated and should drink more water," he advises.
Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. So for example, if you weigh 200 pounds, shoot for about 100 ounces of water.
2. Brown Urine
First, you could be dehydrated. Even a slight brownish tinge to yellow urine can mean you need to rehydrate with fluids.
However, dark brown urine, rusty urine, or coca cola-colored urine can be a sign of rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream, leading to possible kidney damage, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by severe injury, but today it's known for happening after particularly strenuous exercise (especially one that your body is not conditioned for), according to the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal.
Along with dark and pungent urine, watch for muscle swelling and intense soreness. If you have symptoms of rhabdo, you need to call your doctor right away.
3. Orange Urine
Most often, orange pee happens if you've started certain medications.
"One of the most common is rifampin, an antibiotic that turns all of your bodily secretions orange-ish," Dr. Agarwal says.
Another is phenazopyridine, a drug used to treat symptoms of urinary tract infections like frequency and burning. If you start taking one of these drugs, your doctor should warn you of this very strange side effect. It likely will stick around for one or two days, Dr. Agarwal says.
Other benign causes include overindulging on orange-colored foods like carrots — though you'll probably know if you went to town on these veggies.
However, orange or dark orange urine can also point to liver issues, Dr. Agarwal says.
"It's the liver's job to break up bilirubin. That bilirubin goes into the stools and gives them a dark color. If you have both dark orange urine and pale-colored stools, that could suggest the liver is not breaking down bilirubin and it's being excreted in the urine," he explains.
Most importantly, if you have orange urine and can't point to an obvious cause (e.g. a new med) and it lasts more than just a couple of days, you'll want to call your doctor to investigate.
4. Red or Pink Urine
"These are the most important colors urologists worry about because we have to make sure that it's not blood," Dr. Agarwal says.
First, though, it could be totally innocent. Did you go to a juice bar and order a drink made with beets? A small percentage of people have a genetic alteration that makes them more likely to develop red or pink urine after eating red-hued food like beets, rhubarb and blackberries, he says.
Another relatively benign cause, Dr. Agarwal says, is "runner's hematuria." This is when the bladder rubs against itself as you run, causing the appearance of blood in the urine after exercise. If this happens to you, don't brush it off — get checked out by your doctor to ensure that this is, indeed, what's going on.
When there's red urine, "We worry about the kidneys, ureters, bladder and prostate," Dr. Agarwal says.
If there is a problem with your urinary system, you'll likely experience other symptoms as well. For instance, if you have a kidney stone, you might also notice back pain (in the area over a kidney), frequent urge to pee or burning with urination.
A urinary tract infection might also involve burning with urination, fever and urinary frequency.
Prostate problems can come with visible blood in the urine as well as a decreased urinary stream and having problems getting all of your urine out when you go.
Finally, pink or red pee could be a sign of cancer. As Dr. Agarwal points out, bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in those assigned male at birth. "It presents with no symptoms except for a few drops of blood in the urine," he says.
Having any visible blood in the urine warrants a call to your doc to ensure it's not a UTI, stone or tumor.
5. Blue Urine
Blue or indigo dyes are sometimes given for certain medical procedures in order to analyze urine as it flows out of the urinary tract. This effect can lead to blue urine lingering hours after the procedure, Dr. Agarwal says.
If you're Googling because your baby has blue urine, know that there is a very rare genetic metabolic disorder called "blue diaper syndrome," which is when the intestines cannot break down tryptophan adequately, leading to blue urine that leaves a stain behind in the diaper, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). Call your pediatrician if your baby has blue urine.
6. Green Urine
Certain medications can lead to green urine, as well as eating asparagus, notes Harvard Health Publishing. B vitamins can also lead to a green pee color, notes the Cleveland Clinic. None of these causes are that big of a deal.
But green pee can also be a sign of a bacterial infection, which is worrisome.
"If it were a bacterial infection, you might also have a fever and perhaps a milky appearance to the urine," Dr. Agarwal says.
See your doctor if you have any of these accompanying symptoms and your urine is green, whitish or milky-looking.
So, What Color Should Your Pee Be?
Healthy urine colors are clear to light yellow, yellow and dark yellow. The shade of your urine during a particular bathroom break typically depends on how much water you've been drinking that day.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Rhabdomyolysis”
- ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: “Exertional (Exercise-Induced) Rhabdomyolysis”
- American Cancer Society: “Key Statistics for Bladder Cancer”
- National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD): “Blue Diaper Syndrome”
- Harvard Health Letter: “Red, brown, green: Urine colors and what they might mean”
- Cleveland Clinic: "Changes in Urine; Symptoms, Causes & Treatment"