6 Possible Reasons Your Pee Smells Different From Normal
Just because peeing is as natural as breathing doesn't mean it's always so straightforward. If you've sat down to pee and noticed a less-than-normal color, consistency, or smell, you're not alone.
To help explain the latter, mbg consulted urologists who share a few common explanations for strange-smelling urine (plus, whether or not you should be concerned):
What you ate altered the smell.
It's no secret that certain foods (looking at you, asparagus), can alter the smell of urine. But why exactly does this happen?
"Since urine is a way that our body gets rid of certain compounds we ingest or byproducts of what we eat or drink, there are many things that can change the color or smell of urine," urologist and board-certified physician Lamia Gabal, M.D., tells mbg.
Asparagus, in particular, contains a compound called "asparagusic acid," which, when excreted through urine, leads to that notorious odor. "Interestingly, this doesn't happen to everyone," Gabal says. "There is likely an enzyme that excretes this acid that is not present in some people."
Brussels sprouts, onions, and garlic all produce the odorless gas methyl mercaptan when they're digested, which can lead to odorous urine, urology expert Judson Brandeis, M.D., says. Cumin also contains sulfur compounds that can give urine a foul scent, he adds.
You drank too much coffee.
Coffee contains plenty of health benefits, namely in the form of brain-supporting antioxidants called polyphenols. Those same polyphenols are the reason your pee may smell a bit like coffee after one too many mugs.
"When a person drinks lots of coffee, the polyphenols are excreted in the urine, giving the urine the same odor," Gabal explains. On top of that, coffee is a natural diuretic, which may increase the urgency to go to the bathroom.
According to Brandeis, if you're not drinking enough water to make up for the loss of fluid, it may result in minor dehydration, which makes urine more concentrated and more strongly scented.
Similar to the tail end of the coffee conversation, dehydration can change the smell of pee. In fact, Brandeis says this is the most common cause of strong-smelling urine. "Urine combines water and waste products, and if there is less water than the concentration of waste is high," he says. "In general, the darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are."
You may have a UTI.
"A bacterial infection might also cause a malodorous scent1, but it may not always require treatment unless bothersome symptoms occur, as well," urologist Darlene Gaynor-Krupnick, D.O., FACOS, says.
A few other telltale signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), according to board-certified physician Eva Selhub, M.D., include a burning pain while urinating; aches in the lower abdomen; a frequent/constant urgency to urinate; needing to wake up to urinate several times overnight; lower-back aches; and feelings of nausea, dizziness, headaches, or fatigue.
You may have diabetes.
One more concerning cause of abnormal or sweet-scented pee is diabetes. "Some people with diabetes, especially if not controlled, may have an aromatic scent," Gaynor-Krupnick says. That's because the excess blood sugar will end up excreting into the urine, she explains.
Additionally, "People with uncontrolled diabetes typically have urinary frequency and urgency and nighttime urination," Brandeis says. If you have one or both of these symptoms, it's a good idea to visit a doctor.
You're taking multivitamins or medication.
Of course not all multivitamins and medications will alter the smell of pee, but some will. Particularly when you're taking a large amount, or in the case of dehydration, Gabal says some supplements and drugs can change the smell and color of your usual urine.
When to visit a doctor.
Though some of these changes in typical pee patterns are nothing to be concerned about (i.e., changes from food or coffee), others might be a bit more serious—especially if the symptoms are lasting.
"Sweet-smelling urine should raise the concern for diabetes, and you should visit your doctor for a simple urine dipstick test," Brandeis says. "In the absence of a diet heavy in asparagus, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, or cumin, foul-smelling urine should raise concern for a urinary tract infection," he adds.
Overall, keep an eye on the color of your urine to make sure you're not dehydrated, he says. "If it is dark, avoid dehydration by drinking more water."
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.