10 Things Your Pee Reveals About Your Health (Besides Dehydration)

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021

Don't flush away the evidence: The color, smell, frequency, and consistency of your urine can tell you a lot about what's going on inside your body.


You have a urinary tract infection

One of the first signs of a UTI is pee that has a strong ammonia, foul, or even slightly sweet scent. The bacteria causing the infection produce the smell as a byproduct and can also give your urine a cloudy or bloody appearance. If you suspect a UTI, talk to your doctor immediately as antibiotics are very effective at clearing them up and preventing future problems. You can also try these home remedies to prevent UTIs.


You eat a healthy diet

If you’re one of the roughly 50 percent of people whose pee is, ahem, perfumed after eating asparagus then you know that what you eat can affect your urine. But the green stalks aren’t the only plant to change the color or odor of your pee. Strong coffee can produce a vanilla-like smell, rhubarb and blueberries can give you purplish-pink pee, and beets are so great at scaring people by turning their pee red that there’s even a name for it: beeturia. Don’t let smells or technicolor toilet bowl worry you, however, as it is just the byproduct of your body digesting these healthy foods!


Your workout was way too hard

The current craze for hardcore workouts and races has lead to a resurgence of a previously rare illness called rhabdomyolysis which is characterized by dark brown “coca cola pee.” Rhabdo happens when your muscles are damaged beyond their ability to repair themselves after a grueling workout, particularly if you’re not trained or are returning to exercise after a long absence. It can be deadly if not treated immediately so if your urine suddenly turns the color of dark tea and you have severe muscle pain or swelling, call your doctor stat. Exercise can also do these bizarre things to your body.


You OD on sugar

Sweet treats affect more than just your waistline; high amounts of sugar can also increase your urinary frequency. So if you find yourself running to the potty more than usual or experience these other clear signs of eating too much sugar, you may want to get your blood sugar levels checked, says Muhammad Shamim Khan, MD, a urologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Not only can frequency be a problem but extra sugar in your urine or urine that smells “fruity” is also an early warning sign of diabetes.


You have liver or pancreatic disease

Orange pee every once in a while is no big deal (you probably ate something with a lot of food dye) but if your urine is chronically amber- or orange-tinted it can be a sign of liver disease, according to John Hopkins University. The strange color comes from high levels of bilirubin from inflammation of the liver or abnormalities of the liver cells, or blockage of the bile ducts, which can cause jaundice. But your pee won’t be the only symptom; jaundice also causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to take on a yellow-orange cast.


You need a steak

There’s nothing more alarming than looking down in the toilet and seeing red. Bright red blood in your urine warrants an immediate call to the doctor as it could indicate a kidney infection, a kidney stone, or even cancer. But if your pee is just reddish it might mean you’re deficient in iron or have problems metabolizing iron, according to a study published in the Journal of Current Surgery. Watch out for these other silent warning signs of kidney disease as well.


You have prostate problems

Constant bathroom breaks are one of the first signs of an enlarged prostate. In men the prostate gland surrounds the urethra so as it grows with age it can put pressure on the tiny tube. This can make peeing uncomfortable, to say the least. But while your instinct may be to drink less to reduce the chronic feeling you have to pee, dehydration will only make your problems worse. Instead, stay hydrated and make an appointment to see a urologist right away. An enlarged prostate can also increase the risk of urinary tract infections in men.


You have a sexually transmitted disease

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are reaching epidemic levels around the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and one of the reasons is because the sexually transmitted infections may not show symptoms right away. But your urine can provide one clue. Cloudy or thick pee can be a sign of many infections, according to the CDC, but especially for “hidden” illnesses like these two common STDs. Other possible causes for cloudiness include vaginal and urinary tract infections. Regardless of the type of infection, cloudy urine is something you want to get checked out.


Your kidneys are crying for help

Our kidneys produce our urine so it’s no surprise that when our kidneys are compromised they can tell us through the toilet bowl. Blood in your urine is a big red flag that something’s up, but foaminess is another subtle sign of kidney distress. Most of the time having bubbly pee just means there’s lot of pressure behind your stream, but if your urine is consistently “foamy” this can be a sign of excess protein being excreted, which can signal kidney dysfunction, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s called proteinuria and it definitely needs to be evaluated by your doctor.


You have multiple sclerosis

Having a full bladder and not being able to pee is a terrible kind of torture, as any antsy kindergartner can tell you. But if you find yourself straining in the bathroom and still unable to urinate, that could signal a problem in your nervous system. In fact, not being able to pee is one of the first signs of autoimmune disorders, including MS, says Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. These are other silent symptoms of MS.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest