Ever found yourself in the bathroom wondering 'why does my pee smell?'—you're not alone. It's a commonly Googled problem, but often not one for huge concern.
There are a number of reasons why a strong odor can be detected in urine during a trip to the bathroom, and usually, it's pretty harmless—be it dehydration or simply something you ate. Solutions could be as simple as cutting certain foods out of your diet or drinking more water. However, for some people, strong-smelling urine can be an early pregnancy symptom or a sign of a UTI.
Here, we explore the most common causes of smelly urine and what you can do about it, with the help of an expert.
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Reasons why your pee might smell
1. You're dehydrated
If your urine has turned a dark yellow color and started to smell, you could be dehydrated.
"Mild dehydration usually changes the color of the urine from a pale yellow color similar to champagne to orange honey-type color, or even brown," explains Maya Mendoza, Co-Founder and Creator of PeeSting.
"Strong, dehydrated urine can become quite pungent and smell like ammonia too. People are quite familiar with that smell, as ammonia is used in many household cleaning products," Maya adds.
What to do about it
If your urine is dark and smelly due to dehydration, the solution is simple. Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water and squash, until your pee returns to a pale clear color.
"It takes about three hours for what you drink to show in your urine so don't expect it to lighten up immediately," Maya adds.
2. Food you're eating
Asparagus is a delicious green vegetable that comes with one very noticeable side effect—it makes your pee smell foul. According to the British Medical Journal, 40% of the population say they can smell “asparagus pee” after consuming the veg. Not so pleasant when you’re using a public bathroom and someone rushes into the cubicle after you.
It’s not just asparagus that can change the scent of your urine though; Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, curry, and even alcohol can alter the smell, too.
What to do about it
Unfortunately, the only way to combat this particular problem is to stop consuming the culprits, or come to terms with the fact you might have smelly urine after eating an asparagus dish.
3. You have a UTI
If your pee is cloudy and smelly, it hurts or burns when you pee, you have a sore vagina or you have pain in your lower abdomen, chances are you have a UTI.
"Generally speaking there are some obvious changes to your urine when you have a bacterial infection (such as cystitis) in your bladder or urethra," says Maya.
"The depth of the changes will depend on the severity of the infection and your urological health history. The signs to look for in your pee include cloudy urine. You may notice your urine going darker or a pink color. This can mean there is blood in your pee. Often the change in color and cloudiness is accompanied by a strong—and often quite foul—smell," Maya adds.
What to do about it
If you think you might have a UTI you should speak with your doctor for medical advice and start treatment as soon as possible. Depending on your consultation, your doctor may suggest drinking lots of fluids, taking painkillers, or prescribe antibiotics.
4. You're pregnant
Strong smelling urine is one of the early symptoms of pregnancy (as your hormones change, causing urine to become more pungent), so this could be a sign that you're expecting.
"Pregnancy changes your urine and, at the beginning of pregnancy, you might find yourself needing to pee more often," Maya explains, "This happens because when pregnant you experience an increase of about 25% in your circulating blood, and a lot of that moves through your kidneys, which creates more urine. Sometimes at the start of pregnancy, the urine can seem brighter in color, a bit more fluorescent. This may be due to extra filtering by the kidneys and flushing out of B vitamins."
However, just because your pee smells or you're peeing more often, it doesn't automatically mean you're pregnant. There are other changes to look out for, Maya explains.
"Other changes to urine in early pregnancy include the appearance of white particles, which is simply an increase in a normal and healthy, milky vaginal discharge called leukorrhea, which keeps your vagina moist and clean," Maya says.
"Pregnancy changes and suppresses your immune system and women can become more prone to cystitis and also vaginal yeast infections. These infections gave a discharge that can make your urine look cloudy (see our guide to what causes thrush and the best treatments)."
What to do about it
If you think you might be pregnant take a pregnancy test and speak to your doctor for further advice. If you have a negative pregnancy test, your doctor will be able to advise on other reasons why you might be experiences changes to your urine.
5. You're taking medication
Certain medications can change the color and smell of your urine, explains Maya. "Some culprits include diabetic medications that lower blood sugar by inhibiting the kidneys from reabsorbing sugar back into your blood—so you pee the sugar out."
Other medications affect urine color and bring on a smell that's something like rotten eggs, including penicillin and sulfonamide antibiotics, antimalarials and medication for rheumatoid arthritis.
What to do about it:
If you are concerned about how your medication is affecting your health, you should speak to your doctor for further advice.
When to see a doctor if you have smelly urine
Most of the time, smelly urine is totally harmless. But there are some instances where it may suggest an underlying problem.
If you are experiencing lower back pain, pain when peeing, and blood in your pee, you may have kidney stones. If your smelly pee is accompanied by jaundice, tummy pain, nausea, and vomiting, there is a chance you could be experiencing liver failure. In both instances, you should see your doctor or emergency services as soon as possible.
These things are much less common reasons for smelly urine, however, so if you notice a scent in your urine don't jump to conclusions—it's likely to be nothing to worry about.
w&h thanks Maya Mendoza, Co-Founder and Creator of PeeSting for their time and expertise.
Ciara is the digital health editor at woman&home.com, covering all things health & wellbeing from fitness to sleep to relationships. She's always on the lookout for new health trends, innovative fitness gadgets and must-read wellness books.
Originally from Ireland, Ciara moved to London to study journalism. After graduation, Ciara started her career at Goodhousekeeping.com/uk where she worked as a junior digital writer before later becoming the acting senior digital writer. Her time there was spent writing lifestyle features, running photoshoots and video shoots, and organizing product tests (including sportswear and swimwear) for the website.
Ciara qualified as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation in 2020, and outside of her day-to-day now runs her own meditation school called Finding Quiet. She is all about bettering that mind-body connection but believes wellness looks different to everyone.
In her spare time, you’ll find her trying out new fitness classes, hiking up mountains, or in a beer garden because life is all about balance…
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