Urine moves wastes and extra water out of the body. Most of the time, its transit is uneventful and the normal output of urine will appear pale yellow to amber in color and bear little to no odour. But sometimes urine may look or smell different.

Urine changes are often totally harmless and fleeting and require no intervention or medical attention. Here are a few changes you might notice.

Colour changes: The common culprits of urine colour changes are foods, medications, and dyes used in foods or medications. Occasionally, a colour change is a signal of an underlying problem.

  • Deeply amber-coloured urine is concentrated urine, a sign of dehydration.
  • Orange urine may also be an indicator of dehydration. But it is usually caused by foods containing high vitamin C or carotene, a plant pigment in orange-hued foods like carrots. Urine may turn orange after taking certain kinds of medication including some antibiotics, blood thinners, laxatives, chemotherapy drugs, and medications taken to treat urinary tract infections.
  • Blue or green urine could be blamed on asparagus, which also affects urine odour. Children whose urine appears blue may have a rare condition called familial hypercalcemia, brought on by excess calcium. Certain types of heartburn medications, some multivitamins, antinausea medications, among others, may lend urine a blue-green tinge.
  • Tea-coloured or brown urine may simply be a sign you have eaten a lot of rhubarb, fava beans, or aloe. Or it might mean you have recently taken urinary tract infection medications, antimalarials, laxatives, muscle relaxants, or some antibiotics. This darker shade could also be a sign of a liver disorder or kidney disease.
  • Red or pink urine may signal the presence of blood and the possibility of urinary tract infection, enlarged prostate, kidney or bladder stones, kidney or bladder cancer, or kidney disease. But not all reasons for blood in urine are serious. It could be brought on after particularly strenuous exercise. Richly-coloured red foods like beets, berries, and rhubarbs can also affect urine colour, as can certain laxatives, some antipsychotic medications, and anesthetics. Urine may also appear red if there is chronic lead or mercury poisoning.

Consistency changes: If you have not urinated in a while, your urine may appear thicker or somewhat murky. Other consistency changes could point to infection or illness.

  • Urine that looks cloudy or murky may indicate a urinary tract infection or kidney stones.
  • Foamy urine can sometimes mean protein is building up in your urine, indicating a potential kidney problem.

Changes in output: You would expect to produce more urine if you drink six cups of coffee in a row or chug a few too many beers with friends. But too much or too little urine output can be a sign of trouble if it occurs regularly and over time.

  • Frequent or urgent urination can signal infection or inflammation of the urinary tract or bladder, diabetes, pregnancy, overactive bladder or incontinence, or less commonly bladder cancer. Certain medications can also cause more frequent urination.
  • Decreased urination, meaning less than 500 mL of urine per day, could be caused by dehydration, an obstruction of the urinary tract, infection, or the use of some medications.

Odour changes: You probably know what urine smells like if it is left too long in the toilet. Coffee and asparagus can both alter urine odour, too. But on its way out of the body, normal, diluted urine has little to no noticeable odour.

  • An ammonia-like odour means your urine is concentrated and you may be dehydrated.
  • A foul odour could be blamed on infection-causing bacteria.
  • A sweet odour is often an indicator of uncontrolled diabetes or a metabolic disorder.
  • A musty odour may arise from a liver disease or metabolic disorder.

See a doctor if you notice:

  • blood in the urine, or pink colour suggestive of blood in the urine
  • colour changes that do not seem related to food, medication, or nutritional supplements
  • colour changes accompanied by changes in increased urination frequency, urge, and burning
  • you experience any other symptoms such as fever, chills, or sweats; abdominal or back pain; a strong odour; vomiting; increased thirst or appetite; fatigue; or sudden weight loss
  • dark brown urine accompanied by pale stools, yellow skin and eyes
  • a urine odour that worries you
  • a noticeable decrease of urine, especially if accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness, or rapid pulse
  • pain or burning upon urination, especially if accompanied by fever or chills, discharge, blood in the urine, or pregnancy