The way your pee looks and smells could indicate underlying health issues. 

Jaime Milan, reviewed by Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D.
August 18, 2020
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We know it’s a little awkward to talk about our private bathroom habits, but the appearance and odor of our poop and pee can tell us a lot about our health. While you’re probably not examining the color of your pee every time you go to the bathroom, paying attention to it can alert you if you need to drink more water, lay off certain foods or see your doctor ASAP.

This is just a rough guide, but if you’re noticing any sudden changes in the appearance or smell of your urine, having any pain or experiencing unusual side effects, see your doctor to rule out any health problems.

What the Color, Appearance and Odor of Your Pee Could Be Telling You About Your Health

Your Pee Smells Weird

Eating certain foods (looking at you, asparagus) can make your pee smell different than usual. Other foods on the list include coffee, garlic, cruciferous veggies (like Brussels sprouts and broccoli) and onions. If you’ve eaten these foods recently and your urine smells a little “off,” it’s probably harmless. However, if your urine smells foul, fruity or like ammonia, you should see your doctor immediately to rule out any underlying health issues.

Your Pee Is Bright Yellow

The most common reason behind highlighter yellow pee is that you’re peeing out your vitamins. High-dose vitamins—especially ones that contain riboflavin—could be the culprit, as your body is excreting excess vitamins it doesn’t need. This is totally harmless, but can definitely be alarming the first time you see it. If you’re taking a high-dose (also called high-potency) multivitamin or supplement, switch to a lower-dose (unless directed by your physician). You’ll save money in the process, too.

You Have Dark or Discolored Urine

You’ve probably heard that clear or pale-colored urine is the best indicator of proper hydration. While it's important to drink enough water and eat hydrating foods, we all fall short from time to time, which can lead to darker-colored urine. If your pee is dark yellow or amber, drink plenty of water and see if that helps. It’s also worth checking any medication you may be on to see if discolored urine is a potential side effect (many common meds can cause tinted urine). However, if your urine is orange or dark brown, and/or if it’s painful to pee, call your doc to discuss options.

You Have Cloudy Urine

While cloudy urine isn’t always cause for concern, it can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI), sexually transmitted infection (STI), kidney stones, kidney or bladder infection, prostate cancer and more, according to Mount Sinai Medical Center's Urology Department, so it’s definitely worth getting a checkup. Tell your doctor if you’re also experiencing foul-smelling urine or any pain, so they can run the proper diagnostic tests.

Your Pee Is Pink or Red

For some people, eating beets, rhubarb or berries can turn their urine a shade of pink. If you’ve eaten these foods in the past day and are feeling OK, you may not need to see a doctor. However, red urine can signal concerning health issues, such as blood in the urine, and it’s worth calling your doc ASAP.

Getty / Peter Dazeley

The Bottom Line

Our bodies do a pretty good job of highlighting when something is wrong, most often in the form of pain. So, as long as you’re not in pain when you pee, chances are you just need to drink some water to get the color back to normal. That said, it never hurts to give your doc a call if you suspect something more is at play!