Help! My Urine Smells Bad: What Causes It to Smell Funny?
Okay, I know this isn't particularly a pleasant topic, nor one you'd be bringing up at the dinner table. That's why I feel compelled to share some information on the issue. If ever you've been too embarrassed to tell someone "Gosh, my urine smells, should I be worried?", you're not alone. Changes in the smell of your urine aren't uncommon, but knowing the cause is important, nevertheless. Some causes are harmless, while others are more serious and require a visit to the doctor. I will present the most common reasons urine smells bad or different from your usual smell. The good news? Your urine can provide some very important clues about what's going on in your body...
Is My Urine Smell Normal?
From day to day, there can be variations in the way your urine smells. That's perfectly normal... it's not always going to be the same. Here's a list of causes for normal variations in odor.
Dehydration can cause a strong urine smell. When you're dehydrated, your urine will be darker and more concentrated. It may have a stronger than usual ammonia scent. You may not be drinking enough fluids, you might be sick, it might be hot outside, or perhaps you've overexerted yourself physically. Your body is trying to tell you it's time to hit the water, and lots of it!
Consuming asparagus can produce urine that smells bad... really bad! When I was young we'd go to my Aunt's house for Thanksgiving dinner every year. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why her bathroom had a terrible odor... it smelled like there was a sewer problem. Somehow the topic was finally broached and she, a registered nurse for many years, had a very interesting and in-depth explanation. Evidently it's not yet clear whether or not everyone produces a distinctive smell in their urine after eating asparagus. Some theorize everyone does, but not everyone can smell the odor. Others claim not everyone produces the unmistakable asparagus pee smell. Clearly more and better studies need to be performed. But, what we do know indicates we excrete sulfur compounds after eating this delightful vegetable. The question remains whether everyone excretes these compounds that have been theorized to be linked to a specific gene. Anyway, if you notice the uncanny sulfur-like odor, make sure there wasn't any asparagus hiding in your lunch-time pasta.
Medications can also change the way your urine smells, particularly some vitamins (most notably Vitamin B-6) and certain types of antibiotics.
Coffee can create a stronger than normal odor as well. If you've overdone it in the morning, you may notice it later... in the restroom!
Eating an excess of citrus fruits or vinegar can cause the kidneys to excrete the excess acid via ammonia (or , the ammonium ion NH4+).
Urine Odor Causes to be More Concerned About...
Urinary Tract Infections (U.T.I.) can change the way your urine smells. Please note this is NOT a reliable way to diagnose a urinary tract infection, however. Not all U.T.I's create foul smelling urine. If there are accompanying symptoms, such as pain and burning during urination, the urge to urinate frequently, excreting small amounts of urine, urine that's cloudy, urine that's pink or brownish (indicating blood in the urine), pelvic or rectal pain... then you should be suspicious you have a U.T.I. These are clues it's time to visit your doctor.
An enlarged prostate or bladder disorder can also cause on ongoing ammonia-like smell in your urine. If your bladder isn't properly emptying, leftover urine remains, which can produce an ammonia-like smell. If you notice this odor consistently, it's time to see your doctor.
Diabetes can create a sweet or fruity urine smell. Sweet smelling urine can mean your kidneys are filtering out excess glucose. If you have diabetes, this could be a sign you're disease is not being properly controlled. If you haven't been diagnosed with diabetes, it's time to visit your doctor for a screening test.
Maple Syrup Urine Disease, as the name would suggest, causes your urine to have a sweet scent that resembles maple syrup. If you are noticing this smell in your infants diapers, it's time to let the pediatrician know. This is a rare disease, affecting only about 1 per 185,000 children, although it's much higher in the Mennonite settlements in the USA. It's an inherited metabolic disorder where the body is unable to process certain parts of proteins, namely amino acids. These infants will exhibit numerous other symptoms, most notably poor feeding, vomiting, lack of energy, and developmental delays.
Cystinuria causes a rotten egg or sulfur-like smelling urine. Like Maple Syrup Urine Disease, it's an inherited metabolic disorder. These individuals are unable to properly reabsorb cystine, an amino acid (a building block of proteins). As a result, the excess cystine (which is a sulfur containing amino acid) is excreted in the urine, giving it the characteristic "rotten egg" smell.