What the Smell of Your Pee Can Tell You About Your Health

Urine smells are normally different from person to person, but a few specific smells can tip you off that something's going on with your health.
Image Credit: Mihailgrey/iStock/GettyImages

Sometimes it smells like nothing. Other times, like when you wake up in the morning, your pee has that, well, "strong pee smell." Or it might smell fruity, sour or even fishy. So, what's going on?

"Urine will have a characteristic odor that may be different in each person," Piyush Agarwal, MD, professor of surgery and urology and director of the Bladder Cancer Program at The University of Chicago Medicine, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Advertisement

But when there's something funky going on — your urine does not smell "normal" to you — you probably have questions. Before you rely on your pee smell to self-diagnose, though, keep in mind that smells can be up for interpretation. What you'd describe as pee that smells sweet, another person might say smells fruity.

What's more, while odor is important, it's often not as telling as other signs, including urine color.

So pay attention to the stink and report any concerns to your doctor, but don't assume the worst if the aroma you're producing is a little off.

Advertisement

Now, let's get on with it. If your urine smells like the following, here's what may be going on:

1. If Your Urine Smells Like Ammonia...

You may be dehydrated.

Urine is mostly made up of water, with the addition of waste products like urea. If you have foul-smelling or pungent urine that has a strong ammonia scent, then it's likely you're dehydrated, leading to more concentrated urine.

Advertisement

Where doctors worry is when you have additional symptoms. For instance, an ammonia smell to your urine along with burning, pain with urination and fever may point to a urinary tract infection (UTI), Dr. Agarwal says.

Fix it:​ Drinking more water will dilute your urine, which will tame the smell. You'll know you're properly hydrated if your pee is somewhere between clear and a light yellow color, per the Cleveland Clinic.

If you have additional symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Advertisement

2. If Your Pee Smells Fishy...

You might have an infection.

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can affect people of any sex. People assigned male at birth often have no symptoms, but those assigned female can have a fishy-smelling vaginal discharge. While discharge is distinctly different than urine, that may be the scent you're smelling when in the bathroom.

Along with the odor, discharge may be greenish-yellow, and you may experience vaginal irritation, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fix it:​ This infection is cured with a single dose of antibiotics.

3. If You Have Sweet-Smelling Urine...

It might be an infection, or it could be diabetes.

Some patients who have UTIs actually describe the smell of their urine as sweet, Dr. Agarwal says.

More commonly, this might be a sign of diabetes. If you have uncontrolled diabetes, sugar is being eliminated in your urine, which can add a sweet smell.

"This would be accompanied by going to the bathroom more frequently and an increased urge to go," Dr. Agarwal says.

Related Reading

4. If Your Pee Smells Strong...

It could be dehydration, or maybe it's the supplement you're taking.

As we noted before, your pee is more concentrated when you're dehydrated, so it has that strong pee smell.

Another cause behind that smell, though, can be B-6 vitamins, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The vitamin is water-soluble, meaning it is eliminated in the urine. Check your supplements and multivitamin: How much B6 do they contain?

Fix it:​ Drink more water if you're dehydrated. If it's your supplement, consider switching to a vitamin with lower levels of B-6.

5. If Your Urine Smells Really Bad...

You may have a structural problem.

Sometimes the GI tract can form an abnormal connection to the urinary tract, called a fistula. "That causes some stool contents to be eliminated in the urine," Dr. Agarwal says.

Your urine may take on a really nasty smell because of these fecal particles, may have a brownish color and you may hear air passing through your urethra as you're peeing. However, foul-smelling urine might be the first sign, he says.

Fix it:​ This warrants a call to your doctor, who will look for the underlying cause of the fistula (such as colon cancer or an inflammatory disorder) and recommend surgery, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

6. If Your Pee Smells Like Sulfur...

Did you just eat asparagus, perhaps?

"Foods will change the smell of urine," Dr. Agarwal says. Asparagus is by far the most famous for doing this, and that's because sulfur byproducts of the veggie are being eliminated in the urine.

Fun fact: Lots of people can't smell "asparagus pee" because of certain genetic variants that make them unable to detect this odor. In one study published in ​The BMJ​ in 2016, about 60 percent of people claimed they didn't have smelly pee after eating asparagus. (They really did, but their noses were none the wiser.)

Other foods that are known to change your urine odor include garlic, salmon, Brussels sprouts and curries, Dr. Agarwal says.

Fix it:​ Not much you can do here, really — the smell will go away on its own.

Related Reading

7. If Your Urine Smells Like Coffee...

We'll keep this short and sweet: "Some people notice that they have a coffee smell to their urine after drinking coffee," Dr. Agarwal says.

Fix it:​ This is harmless — keep on caffeinating.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you're confident that the smell is not related to something you ate or a change in diet, call your doctor, who may want to evaluate you for an underlying cause, like a UTI or STD.

If you have additional symptoms, like burning, increased peeing frequency or a cloudy appearance to your urine, you should also be evaluated.

Advertisement

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
references