When you visit the bathroom, you might not pay too much attention to what's in the toilet bowl before flushing unless it's something that seems obviously out of the norm, but taking note of the color, scent, and clarity of your pee can actually give you some insight into your health. There are a number of smells your pee can have and a number of different messages that those smells might be sending you. There are all manner of different ways that your body can send you super subtle clues about your health status, in particular, and the scent of your pee is no different, but you have to know what to take note of and, of course, what those smells might mean, in order to address them. Though some smells are probably not a huge deal or should be cause for a ton of concern, others might warrant a conversation with your doctor, to rule out or address more serious issues.
"The smell of urine is caused by the volatile substances in it, and it gets stronger as the urine becomes more concentrated which is a sign of dehydration," Dr. Rada Jones, MD, an emergency physician, tells Romper in an email exchange. "That's when the smell of ammonia becomes obvious."
In more normal circumstances, when you're adequately hydrated and aren't dealing with any of these specific health issues, have eaten anything different, or are taking specific medications, your urine probably won't have a very noticeable smell, as WebMD noted. If it does have a more distinctive smell, however, you might need to pay attention to it.
1. Maple Syrup
So this might not be the scent of your pee, exactly, but if you have a baby and notice this smell emanating from their pee, it's definitely something you want to talk about with their doctor. "Maple syrup urine disease is a genetic condition in which infants lack the enzymes necessary to break down certain amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and their urine has a sweet smell like maple syrup," Jones says. "It's associated with poor feeding and low energy."
2. That Distinct Smell After Eating Asparagus
Though you might know exactly what the scent is like, it turns out that not everyone is able to smell it. A 2016 study published in BMJ, the British Medical Journal, found that there's a genetic component to whether or not you're able to smell that smell after eating asparagus. Smelling that smell doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you, it's just the compounds present in your pee that you're smelling.
Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, MD, FACOG, the director of The Urogynecology Center at Mercy Medical Center, told Shape that a certain stronger pungency to your pee can sometimes be one of the first signs that you're pregnant. It can mean a number of different things, however, so even if you don't think you're pregnant, you should raise the topic with your doctor to figure out what's going on.
"Uncontrolled diabetes makes the body spill sugar in the urine and gives it a sweet smell — and taste, for those who try it — thus the name, diabetes mellitus, from mel (latin for honey)," Jones says. If your pee gives off a sweet scent, you definitely want to look into that more, rather than just write it off as no big deal.
5. A Little Like Coffee
In an interview with Men's Health, Dr. S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologist, said that if you're a big-time coffee drinker and have a lot of caffeol, a compound in your coffee, your pee might smell a little bit like coffee as well. You might not need to be too alarmed, but you also may want to lay off the coffee a bit and swap it for water instead.
You might not be super shocked if you notice a mild ammonia smell to your pee, but if it's strong, it could be signaling a few different things. One option is that you're not adequately hydrated, concentrating the compounds in your pee that give off that scent (or any other). Another, more serious option is that you actually have an infection. In an interview with Women's Health, Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, an OB-GYN, said that a major ammonia smell could indicate a UTI.
7. Something Sort Of Musty
You probably don't expect that your pee will take on any sort of musty scent, but if it does, you should definitely take note. Everyday Health reported that a musty sort of smell in your urine could indicate a metabolic disorder. Talk to your doctor.
Fishy smells aren't pleasant, no matter the context, so if you smell a fishy smell coming from your pee, you're probably already concerned. There are a few potential reasons why you might smell this smell. Healthline reported that this can be because you ate fish and are dehydrated. Another potential reason for having fishy-smelling urine, also reported by Healthline, is bacterial vaginosis. Though this is a vaginal infection, that scent can be obvious when you're peeing. There are still more reasons why your pee might smell like fish, so it's likely best to have a chat with your doctor to know for sure that there's nothing that needs to be addressed.
In an interview with Women's Health for the previously-mentioned article, Ross said that a yeast smell in your pee could mean that you have a yeast infection. But yeast smells can be caused by other things as well. The aforementioned article from Men's Health noted that taking certain medications can also have the potential to give your pee a bit of a yeasty or fungal scent. Luckily, if that's the cause, the smell won't stick around once you're done with the medication.
Unpleasant or strange smells coming from your pee probably isn't the most reassuring thing in the world, but knowing that some of these scents probably aren't anything to worry about — and knowing what sorts of scents you should bring up with your doctor — can help you have more confidence in handling the situation, should it arise.
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