My urine smells sweet

How’s your pee been looking lately?

It’s not exactly polite conversation, but it’s a question worth asking yourself from time to time. Just as the eyes are windows into the soul, urine is a window into the body.

It can reveal whether you’re dehydrated, for instance, a common health issue during these sweaty summer months. Healthy urine consists of yellow waste products that are dissolved in water. Like lemonade mixed from a powder, the less water involved, the darker yellow (and more pungent) the result, so dark yellow urine tells you you’re due for a glass of water.

But to a doctor, urine can provide even more information. One way for doctors to find out what’s going on inside the body is to examine what flows out of it. So don’t be surprised the next time a doctor asks for a urine sample for a seemingly non-urinary complaint.

In fact, be a little proud. When you hand over that little cup, you’re participating in a medical tradition more than 6,000 years in the making.

Urine luck

Today’s urinalysis can reveal a great deal about a person’s heath. But even simple urine color can tell people when to seek medical attention. Urine color may change due to something as innocuous as medications or foods, or as malevolent as an infection or cancer.

Urine that appears pink or red from the presence of blood is one cause for alarm.

“If you see blood in the urine, even once, it requires you to see a doctor,” said Marshall Stoller, a professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco. “It could be nothing,” he said, but “it could be an early sign of a kidney stone or a cancer of some sort.”

Red urine isn’t the only indication of danger. “Sometimes the urine has a sort of Coca-Cola color,” Stoller said. “It could be due to old blood from a tumor or kidney stone” or a blood clot in the kidney, which is more common in people with sickle cell disease.

“Another reason that people could have that colored urine is when you have someone who’s being crushed,” Stoller said. Crush injuries, like those sustained during earthquakes, cause muscle to break down, and bits of crushed tissue enter the bloodstream and are filtered into urine by the kidneys.

Liver damage can also lead to brownish urine, as can porphyria, an inherited blood disorder. And eating gargantuan quantities of fava beans or rhubarb can also turn urine dark brown or black.

But not all abnormal urine colors are bad news. In fact, if you’ve eaten significant quantities of beets or blackberries, don’t be surprised to find yourself producing red or pink urine. Certain laxatives can also turn it red.

The same goes for orange urine, if you’ve been taking a urinary tract painkiller containing phenazopyridine, which can make pee look like Tang. Of medicines that affect urine color, “that’s the classic,” Stoller said.

Methylene blue, part of some common medications for bladder discomfort, can turn urine blue or green. And an overabundance of water-soluble vitamins can make urine appear brighter yellow than normal.

Strange smells

An inherited condition, maple syrup urine disease, so named because it causes urine to smell like sweet maple syrup, results from the body’s inability to digest certain amino acids. It’s usually diagnosed in infants and treated with dietary restrictions, which must be started early in life to prevent brain damage and other problems. In many states, every newborn is tested for this disease.

Sweet-smelling urine can also indicate diabetes mellitus, because excess blood sugar finds its way into the urine. And as medieval doctors knew, sugar also affects urine’s taste, but that’s one diagnostic test they probably preferred to do as little as possible.

But that’s not all. Asparagus is infamous for the stench it lends urine, which only some people can perceive.

In the lab

“I see 100 patients a week. The odds of seeing patients with odd-colored urine is 1 percent,” Stoller said. Rather, most of the clues that doctors look for in urine, he explained, are invisible, detectable only in the urinalysis lab.

“There are dipsticks out that you can dip in the urine and identify the likelihood of infection,” Stoller said. Urinalysis labs can also test for miniscule amounts of sugar, blood, amino acids and other molecules, he said. They can put a number on urine’s concentration, and screen for drugs. And by examining urine’s tiny crystals under a microscope, doctors can diagnose certain types of kidney stones.

Dehydration is the urinary issue people are most likely to encounter, Stoller said. And dehydration, though it sounds mundane, can become very serious very quickly, especially for the urinary system. “The problem is when you concentrate the urine, things can get clogged up,” he said. “When kidneys get plugged up it can result in renal failure.”

“The average adult needs about one and a half liters a day” of water, Stoller said. “And you want to try to pee about one and a half liters a day,” he added, so “if you sweat a lot you may need to drink substantially more.”

Pass it on: If you’re concerned about the color or smell of your urine, see a doctor.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @MyHealth_MHND. Find us on Facebook.

Historically, looking at urine has been a way for doctors to gauge a person’s health, especially before other types of testing were available. If you’ve had diabetes for a long time or know someone who has, you’ll know that urine testing was a way to figure out how well controlled (or uncontrolled) a persons’ diabetes was — this was done in the days before blood glucose meters were available. Now, of course, we have more sophisticated tools to convey glucose information. But urine still has its place. In fact, the color, smell and consistency of your urine can give you and your doctor helpful information about what might be going on in your body.


What is urine?

Urine is a waste product that contains breakdown products from food, drinks, medicines, cosmetics, environmental contaminants and by-products from metabolism and bacteria. Amazingly, urine contains more than 3,000 compounds — much more than what’s found in other body fluids, such as saliva or cerebrospinal fluid. The kidneys do a remarkable job of filtering and concentrating to help get these compounds out of the body (you can understand why keeping your kidneys healthy is so important). So, what is your urine telling you?

If your urine is…

Bright yellow

This may look alarming, especially when your urine seems to be glowing in the dark. But don’t worry — the bright yellow color is likely due to vitamins, specifically, B vitamins and beta carotene.

Green or blue

Green or blue urine seems like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but the color is very likely due to certain medicines that you’re taking, such as amitriptyline, indomethacin (brand names Indocin, Indocin SR, Tivorbex) or propofol (Diprivan). Your urine might also be green or blue due to food dyes or, possibly, a urinary tract infection (UTI).


Certain medications, such as rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Azulfidine EN-Tabs, Sulfazine, Sulfazine EC), and phenazopyridine (Pyridium, used to treat UTIs, and others), laxatives, and some chemotherapy drugs can turn your urine orange. Orange urine may also be a sign of liver problems or dehydration.


Brown or tea-colored urine can result from antimalarial drugs, certain antibiotics, and laxatives that contain senna or cascara. Fava beans, rhubarb and aloe can also darken your urine, as can some kidney and liver disorders, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Red or pink

Red or pink urine can be a sign of something serious…or not. Red urine may be due to the presence of blood, and that’s always somewhat concerning. Blood in the urine may be a sign of a UTI, enlarged prostate, a tumor, kidney or bladder stones, menstruation or injury to the urinary tract. It can also occur if you take blood-thinning medicine or aspirin. Less alarming causes of red urine are beets, berries and rhubarb.


Cloudy urine can result from a UTI, vaginal infection, or dehydration. If the urine is more milky in appearance, that may be due to the presence of bacteria, mucus, fat, or red or white blood cells.

By the way, “healthy” urine should be pale yellow or straw-colored in appearance.

If your urine smells…


It’s most likely due to something that you ate. Urine usually doesn’t have a strong odor. But certain foods, such as asparagus, can give it a strong smell thanks to sulfur compounds. Medicines can impart an odor, too. An ammonia-type of smell may be a sign that you’re dehydrated. And a bacterial infection can give your urine a foul odor. Less common causes of funny-smelling urine are rare genetic conditions.


Sweet-smelling urine typically indicates the presence of sugar or glucose. Of course, having diabetes increases the chances of spilling glucose into the urine if blood glucose levels are too high. The kidneys will make their best effort to get rid of excess glucose once blood glucose levels climb above 180 mg/dl. In people with Type 1 diabetes and some people with Type 2 who take insulin, sweet or fruity-smelling urine may be due to ketones. Ketones are formed when the body burns fat for fuel, and this can occur when there isn’t enough insulin to move glucose into cells for energy. Urine ketones can be measured using ketone sticks that are available in your pharmacy.

What to do

Urine can look and smell funny for a number of reasons. Most of them are relatively harmless, but if you notice any new changes in your urine or are worried about the appearance or smell, the best thing to do is call your doctor. Also, keep in mind that you may be more likely to have changes in your urine if you:

• Are older
• Are female
• Have a family history of kidney stones or kidney disease
• Do strenuous exercise

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Want to learn more about various urinary tract issues? Read “What You Need to Know About UTIs” and “Resolving Diabetes-Related Bladder Problems.”

What Causes Abnormal Urine Odor?

Several conditions can cause strong or unusual urine odor. The most common causes include:

Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough fluids. If you’re dehydrated, you may notice that your urine is a dark yellow or orange color and smells like ammonia.

Most people only experience minor dehydration and don’t require medical treatment. Drinking more fluids, especially water, will generally cause urine odor to return to normal.

If you are experiencing mental confusion, weakness, extreme fatigue, or other unusual symptoms, you may have severe dehydration and should get medical treatment right away.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections — often called UTIs — commonly cause urine to smell strong. A strong urge to urinate, needing to urinate frequently, and a burning sensation upon urination are the most common symptoms of a UTI.

Bacteria in your urine cause urinary tract infections. If your doctor determines you have a UTI, they’ll give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

A common symptom of diabetes is sweet-smelling urine. People with untreated diabetes have high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels cause the sweet urine odor.

See your doctor as soon as possible if your urine frequently smells sweet. Untreated diabetes is dangerous and can be life threatening.

Bladder fistula

A bladder fistula occurs when you have an injury or defect that allows bacteria from your intestines to enter your bladder. Bladder fistulas can occur due to surgical injuries or bowel diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease.

Liver disease

A strong urine odor can be a sign of liver disease. Other symptoms of liver disease include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • yellow skin or eyes, called jaundice
  • weakness
  • bloating
  • weight loss
  • dark colored urine

See your doctor right away if you have symptoms of liver disease. Untreated liver disease can be life threatening.


Phenylketonuria is an incurable genetic condition that is present at birth. It makes you unable to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. When these metabolites accumulate your urine may develop a “mousy” or musky smell. Other symptoms include:

  • decreased skin pigmentation
  • intellectual disabilities
  • slow-developing social skills

If this disease is not treated early, it can lead to ADHD and severe mental handicaps.

Maple syrup urine disease

Maple syrup urine disease is a rare and incurable genetic disease that causes urine to smell like maple syrup. People with the disease can’t break down the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Lack of treatment can lead to brain damage and death.

Your pee can tell you a lot about your health. While its color is a pretty good indicator of your hydration levels, dietary habits, and potentially, undiagnosed medical conditions, its smell can also clue you in to what’s going on inside your body.

“Normal urine, if you’re fairly hydrated, generally has a very limited amount of smell,” Ojas Shah, M.D., NYC-based urologist and professor of urology at Columbia University Medical Center and ColumbiaDoctors Midtown, tells SELF. Sometimes you may notice that your pee is a little smellier than usual. A slight change or an increased potency is most likely due to something very minor, like a food you ate. But there are some odors that may signal an underlying health issue.

Here are all the things that are likely to give you smelly urine, from the totally benign to the potentially concerning.

1. You’re dehydrated.

If you’re not drinking enough water, your pee will take on a strong ammonia scent. Without enough H2O to dilute your urine, it becomes more concentrated with waste products and therefore, darker in color and more odorous. Drink more water, and the smell should go back to normal.

2. You have a urinary tract infection or bladder infection.

“A urine infection will make your urine smell pretty foul at times,” Shah says. This could signal a variety of bladder problems, like a UTI, bladder infection, or inflammation of the bladder (cystitis). If you notice your pee doesn’t just smell strong, but it smells bad, you should see a doctor to get it checked out.

3. You drank a ton of coffee.

Ever drink a ton of coffee on a particularly exhausting day, and thought you were going crazy because then your pee kind of maybe smelled a little bit like coffee? Well, it’s not your imagination. Shah explains that no one knows the exact reason—”I don’t think anybody has spent the time or money to find out why,” he notes—but some sort of byproduct after the coffee is broken down retains that smell, so you can still recognize it after it’s been excreted.

4. You ate a bunch of garlic and onions.

They don’t just make your breath reek, but garlic and onions can actually make your urine smelly, too. Again, Shah explains, something the body produces when it breaks these down maintains the odor even in the urine. It’s not surprising, when you think about how permanent the stench seems in your mouth, that it can somehow survive the body’s most rigorous cleansing process, too.

5. You ate asparagus.

It’s the classic culprit of smelly urine, though not everyone suffers from post-asparagus pee stench. “It happens, we think, because there’s an enzyme in some people’s bodies that breaks down asparagus in a certain way, which makes it have a certain smell,” Shah explains. Experts suggest that some people just don’t have that enzyme, and therefore, will never know what the rest of us are complaining about.

6. You have diabetes.

“Hundreds of years ago physicians could know people had diabetes by tasting their urine,” Shah says. “It tasted sweet.” These days, your doc definitely isn’t taking a sip to investigate—thank goodness for advances in modern medicine. But people with undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes may notice they have sweet-smelling urine. (If you don’t have diabetes and just go on a sugar binge, it won’t have the same effect, because your body effectively makes insulin and keeps your blood sugar levels in check.)

7. Your intestines are leaking into your bladder.

A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts that can develop as a result of injury, infection, surgery, or inflammation. “A fistula can develop between the bladder and intestines,” Shah explains, and can mix the intestinal contents and bladder contents, making the urine smell pretty foul. You may also see particles (basically feces) in your urine if you have one. “This may happen in people with an inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn’s, or bad diverticulitis ,” Shah explains. It can also happen with some cancers, or as a result of radiation therapy in that area. Always see a doctor immediately if your urine smells foul, especially if you have any of these preexisting conditions.

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2. You’ve Eaten Asparagus
Certain foods can give your urine a strong smell. Asparagus is a likely culprit. It contains a specific compound that, once in your system, gets broken down into sulfur compounds. These are responsible for that smell of rotten eggs. No reason to worry though – the smell goes away after a few rounds of urination. Certain medications can cause a strong odor, too.
3. You Have a Bacterial Infection
If unwelcome bacteria have gathered in your bladder through the urethra, this may result in a urinary tract infection (UTI). Women tend to suffer from UTIs more than men. This is because their urethras are shorter than men’s, which enables bacteria to get into the bladder and multiply more easily. A strong, sometimes foul, odor is just one sign of a UTI. Other symptoms include a burning sensation during urination.
4. You Have a Sexually Transmitted Infection
While most sexually transmitted infections (STI) won’t alter the smell of one’s urine, certain infections can cause unpleasant vaginal odor that becomes noticeable during urination. For example, trichomoniasis, a parasite-causing STI, cause a potent or fish-like vaginal odor.
5. Your Diabetes is Not Cooperating
For people who don’t know they have diabetes or don’t have it under control, sweet- or fruity-smelling urine is a sign that glucose (sugar) has spilled into the urine. This happens when blood glucose levels are too high. People with diabetes don’t have enough insulin in their bodies to process the glucose (sugar) they need for energy. Instead, their bodies burn fat to use for energy. This process creates byproducts called ketones that can cause a fruity smell in the person’s urine and on the person’s breath.

Humans, at their most basic, are smelly beings. So many things about us have a scent, be it our sweat, hair, mouth, or freaking feet. And even if it smells bad, that doesn’t necessarily trigger cause for concern. (After all, my husband’s feet smell to high heaven after a hot workout, but that’s normal.)

What’s not normal is when the scents you’re accustomed to start to change. Like, when you usually can’t smell your pee, yet all of a sudden sweet-smelling urine starts showing up. Or when your poop smells worse than usual. These are potential signs of something being off with your health, in which case you may need to call a doctor. So if you notice any of these body smells, don’t ignore them — start dialing.

1. You can actually smell your pee.

Normally urine is scent-less, or if it has a scent, it’s usually a very subtle, ammonia-like smell, says Scott Sullivan, M.D., a professor of OBGYN at the Medical University of South Carolina. So if you get a big whiff of sweet-smelling urine without even trying — and it’s accompanied by pain when you pee — schedule a gyno visit. You could have a urinary tract infection (UTI), which means you’ll need to cycle through a dose of antibiotics.

If there isn’t any pain, your diet may be to blame, Sullivan says. “Urine smell is extremely variable and could change a number of times over the course of a week; that’s perfectly normal,” he says. Strong-scented foods, like asparagus or garlic, could have an impact, as could dehydration.

2. Your sweat smells all sorts of nasty.

Let’s be frank: Sweat is not a sweet-smelling scent, um, ever. But there are certain areas of your body — like your pubic hair and underarms — that naturally give off a stronger scent than your hair, chest, and back. So if you smell yourself in those “stronger” areas, don’t freak out right away — as long as things smell the way they normally do, you’re probably fine.

But if you notice a stronger foul smell coming from those more subtle regions, pay attention. Sullivan says a rancid scent could mean your body is struggling with digestion issues. “It’s rare, but it happens,” he says. It may just be a matter of changing up your diet and adding in more high-fiber foods, but your doctor can advise you on the best course of action.

3. Your morning breath sends your partner running.

It’s not the sexiest thing in the world, but if you have bad morning breath you may be snoring or sleeping with your mouth open. Those who do tend to have dry mouth, which typically lowers the flow of saliva in your mouth. Saliva is responsible for cleaning out food particles and protecting the teeth and gums from bacterial infection, says Alice Boghosian, spokesperson for the American Dental Association. If that’s the case, your dentist can prescribe an artificial saliva mouthwash to help fix the problem.

If dry mouth isn’t the problem, have your dentist do a thorough checkup to rule out any dental health issues, like gum disease, which Boghosian says can be caused by plaque. Then head to your doctor, as bad breath could be a symptom of various medical conditions such as sinus or lung infections, bronchitis, gastric reflux, a tonsil infection, and even some liver or kidney diseases.

4. Or it smells like a bowl of fruit.

Just because it’s a more pleasant scent than say, garbage, doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In fact, if your breath smells like you just noshed on the entire grapefruit section of the grocery store, then head to your doctor immediately — it could mean you have diabetes, says Boghosian.

According to the American Heart Association, getting too many calories from protein, which is usually the case for those eating low-carb, can result in not enough insulin in the body, and that forces us to start burning energy from our fat stores. When we burn energy from fat, it releases chemicals called ketones. (An energy source many are now turning to on the keto diet.) “One of the signs that ketones levels are too high is a fruity smell to the breath, and if that happens it can be very serious and dangerous to one’s health,” says Boghosian. The scent could also be evident in the vaginal area, Sullivan says, so if your partner notices it while he’s pleasuring you (Sullivan notes about 50% of his patients’ partners notice problems first), that could be another warning sign.

5. Your vaginal discharge smells like fish.

Having discharge is normal. But having it come out clumpy or smelling like the raw fish market is not good, and it could be a sign of a yeast infection, sexually transmitted infection (STI), or chlamydia. As soon as you notice these symptoms, get to your gyno. Regardless of your diagnosis, it’s likely you’ll need a course of treatment.

6. Your vagina smells sour.

“Most women have a very subtle, sort of acidic or vinegar-y odor, and it’s usually one you wouldn’t notice from a distance; you’d have to be very close up,” Sullivan says. But if you notice your scent has become strong — and it’s likely a fishy, sour, or even musty smell — that’s a telltale sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV), an inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria (usually gardnerella) normally found in the vagina. “It can happen to anybody, and we don’t understand all the ways it can happen — it could be anything from having sexual relations with a new partner to not getting enough sleep or exercise — but this foreign bacteria helps bad bacteria, like chlamydia, do its dirty work,” he says. Treatment typically involves an antibiotic, either through a topical gel or oral medication, and can be cleared up within a week in most cases.

7. Or it kind of smells like something died down there.

It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it can happen, and it may mean that a foreign object (like a tampon, female condom or diaphragm) has been left in your vagina, Sullivan says. “That foreign object will start to attract bad bacteria, and that buildup is where the smell comes from,” he explains. Usually there won’t be a major problem — having your gyno take out the object should clear the odor in a few days — but in rare, extreme cases, it could lead to a bacterial infection and toxic shock syndrome (a severe disease caused by staph bacteria). If you notice the smell and are experiencing a high fever, contact your doctor immediately.

Urine Odor

What is urine odor?

Healthy urine may have a mild smell but generally does not have a foul odor. In some cases, an unusual or strong urine odor may be due to benign conditions that are not harmful, such as eating certain foods or taking certain medications. When urine persistently smells bad or has a foul, strong or unusual odor, it may be caused by an underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Urine odor can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including infection, inflammation, or other conditions of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra). Urine odor can also be caused by diseases, such as diabetes and dehydration, which affect the urinary tract as well as other body systems.

Urine odor can occur in all age groups and populations, and it may or may not occur with additional symptoms, such as a cloudy urine, bloody urine, and burning with urination.

In some cases, urine odor can be due to serious or life-threatening underlying diseases, such as pyelonephritis or liver failure. Seek prompt medical care if you have persistent urine odor. Timely diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause reduces the risk of serious or life-threatening complications, such as kidney failure and shock.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have urine odor with severe abdominal or flank pain, grossly bloody urine, or an unexpected change in consciousness or alertness.

What other symptoms might occur with urine odor?

Urine odor may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms can be due to problems in the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra), the reproductive system, the endocrine system, the cardiovascular system, and other organs and systems of the body.

Urinary tract symptoms that may occur with urine odor

Symptoms related to the urinary tract that can occur with urine odor include:

  • Abdominal or flank pain along your abdomen, side or back

  • Abnormal coloring of the urine, such as dark, tea-colored, bloody, or pink-tinged urine

  • Bladder spasms, pain or cramps, which are felt in the lower abdominal area

  • Cloudy or foamy urine

  • Dribbling urine or incontinence

  • Frequent urination or a decrease in urination

  • Painful urination or burning with urination

  • Urgent urination

Other symptoms that may occur with urine odor

Symptoms related to other organs or body systems that can occur with urine odor include:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding

  • Excessive hunger

  • Fever

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

  • Swelling (edema) of the abdomen

  • Symptoms of dehydration, such as dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, and weakness

  • Rectal pain and discharge from the rectum

  • Weight loss or weight gain

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition:

In some cases, urine odor can occur with symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions

  • Grossly bloody urine

  • Inability to urinate

  • Severe abdominal pain or flank pain along your abdomen, side, or lower back

What causes urine odor?

Urine odor may be described as foul, strong, musty, sweet, or as smelling like sulfur or ammonia. Urine odor may be caused by conditions that are not harmful (benign) or by mild to serious diseases and disorders.

Benign causes of urine odor

Urine odor may be caused by a variety of conditions that are not harmful or not caused by disease including:

  • Eating certain foods, such as garlic, onions, fish and asparagus. Asparagus can cause a sulfur-like smell of the urine. The unusual odor should go away after these foods have been digested.

  • Taking vitamins and certain medications can cause an unusual urine odor as a side effect.

Potentially harmful causes of urine odor

Urine odor may be caused by infection, inflammation, or other conditions of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra) or the reproductive organs. Urine odor can also be caused by diseases that affect the urinary tract as well as other organs and body systems.

Causes of urine odor related to the urinary tract include:

  • Cystitis (bladder inflammation or infection), which can produce a foul urine odor

  • Prostatitis (inflammation or infection of the prostate gland)

  • Urinary tract infection, such as a bladder infection or kidney infection (pyelonephritis), which can produce a foul urine odor

Urine odor can be caused by other diseases and conditions including:

  • Dehydration, which can produce an ammonia-like urine odor

  • Liver failure, which can produce a musty urine odor

  • Maple syrup urine disease, which produces a sweet, caramel-like urine odor

  • Rectal fistula, an abnormal opening or connection between the rectum and other areas of the body

  • Untreated or poorly treated diabetes, which produces a sweet or sugary urine odor

What are the potential complications of urine odor?

Complications associated with urine odor vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Complications of untreated or poorly controlled diseases, such as diabetes and liver failure, can be serious and even life threatening. Over time, underlying causes of urine odor can lead to serious complications including:

  • Diabetic coma

  • Electrolyte imbalance

  • Ketoacidosis

  • Septicemia (a blood infection)

  • Severe dehydration

  • Shock

  • Urosepsis (severe urinary tract infection that has spread and led to systemic inflammation called sepsis)

Why does my urine smell like sulfur?

Here are 11 different reasons why urine can smell like sulfur. These range from common causes that people can treat easily to less frequent causes that require treatment.

1. Specific foods

Share on PinterestThe consumption of certain foods or medications can make a person’s urine smell like sulfur.

Food is one of the factors most likely to change the smell of urine. Eating specific foods, including the following, can cause a sulfuric smell in the urine:

  • asparagus
  • fish
  • onion
  • garlic

The digestion of these foods often creates sulfur-like compounds that exit the body in the urine. This causes the distinct smell that can appear after eating. The smell is temporary, and the urine should smell normal again once the digestion process is complete.

Drinking extra water may help to dilute the odor, but avoiding these foods is the only way to completely prevent the smell as it is just a natural part of the digestive process.

2. Medications

Some medications or supplements may also be responsible for changing the urine’s odor. These include sulfa drugs, which treat diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions, and some supplements, such as B vitamins.

Drinking more water may help to dilute the sulfur compounds in the body and reduce the smell. If the problem continues or worsens, it may be best to talk to a doctor about switching medications.

3. Dehydration

Urine consists of water extracted from foods, together with chemicals and toxins that the body filters and releases.

When the body is not sufficiently hydrated, the urine becomes concentrated. This can give it a darker yellow or orange color, and often makes its smell quite potent.

If there are any sulfuric compounds in the body, dehydration may make them much more noticeable in the urine.

People should drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially after physical exercise.

It may also help to avoid diuretic drinks such as coffee, tea, or alcohol, as they can make the body urinate more and decrease fluid levels further.

4. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs often cause changes in the appearance or smell of the urine. Infections in the urinary tract may cause a buildup of bacteria, pus, or even blood in the urine, which could potentially change the smell.

People should always seek medical care for UTIs, which can be serious without treatment. Anyone who suspects they have a UTI should contact their doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and proper medical treatment.

Several different germs cause UTIs, but most respond well to antibacterial drugs.

5. Liver problems

Liver damage or a condition that causes the liver to stop working efficiently may also make it harder for the body to filter toxins from the urine. This can result in changes in the urine, one of which may be a foul smell.

If there is something wrong with the liver, additional symptoms will often appear, including:

  • urine that is darker than normal
  • nausea and vomiting
  • swelling in the legs and feet
  • yellowing of the skin
  • abdominal pain

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor for a diagnosis. Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause, but can include changes in diet and lifestyle and taking certain medications.

6. Diabetes

People with diabetes may notice a few changes in their urine. Ketones form in the body when blood sugar levels are too high. The body releases these ketones in the urine, which may change its smell.

People are likely to experience a sulfur smell in their urine along with other symptoms such as excessive thirst, tiredness, and mood swings.

To remove the sulfur scent from the urine, people should ensure that they are using their insulin correctly and measuring the right amount each time they take it.

Controlling the blood sugar levels more successfully may help make the symptom disappear. Some doctors may prescribe additional drugs to give the person greater control.

7. Cystitis

Share on PinterestCystitis can cause the urine to smell sulphuric as the result of excess bacteria.

Inflammation in the bladder, known as cystitis, typically results from a buildup of bacteria. This may be due to a UTI or even to dysbiosis, where harmful bacteria increase in number and take over the good bacteria in the body.

The excess bacteria may change the smell or look of the urine as it sits in the bladder, which can lead to a sulfuric smell.

Cystitis needs prompt medical treatment. Antibiotics may help to get rid of bacterial infections, and drinking extra water and other liquids, such as cranberry juice or herbal tea, may help to dilute the smell.

8. Prostatitis

Inflammation of the prostate, called prostatitis, may also lead to urine that smells like sulfur. A UTI or another infection can lead to inflammation of the prostate.

Prostatitis may cause other symptoms, such as difficulty urinating or an urgent need to urinate as the prostate pushes against the bladder. Many people also feel pain between their anus and scrotum and some may feel internal pain in their abdomen.

The treatment for prostatitis depends on what is causing the condition. Antibacterial medications may be necessary in the case of infection.

Some doctors may prescribe drugs called alpha-blockers to help relax the muscles in the area. Anti-inflammatory medications may also relieve pain and swelling, while heat treatment may help to ease some symptoms.

In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.

9. Cystinuria

Cystinuria is an inherited condition that affects the urinary tract. It causes an excess of the amino acid cysteine to build up, which can lead to urinary stones forming in the kidneys. In addition, it may change the smell of the urine, as cysteine is high in sulfur.

Cystinuria often reacts well to medications and changes in diet and lifestyle, but sometimes surgery is necessary.

10. Hypermethioninemia

Share on PinterestSee a doctor if the smell lasts longer than a few days.

Hypermethioninemia occurs when there is an excess of the amino acid methionine in the blood.

This can occur if someone eats a lot of foods that contain methionine, or if the body does not break the amino acid down properly.

Many people with hypermethioninemia have no symptoms, but others may find that they have trouble standing or walking or that they experience nerve problems.

The breath, sweat, or urine of someone with hypermethioninemia may also become sulfuric.

Treatment includes introducing diet or lifestyle changes to balance methionine levels.

11. Gastrointestinal fistulas

Gastrointestinal fistulas are abnormal openings in the digestive tract that lead to other areas in the body, such as the bladder. They can cause gastric juices and other fluids to leak from the intestines into the bladder.

Leaking gastric juices may cause internal infections and can lead to recurrent UTIs that, in turn, could cause urine to smell like sulfur.

Gastrointestinal fistulas occur most commonly after abdominal surgery or in people with chronic digestive problems.

Treatment for a fistula depends on how large it is and how much gastric fluid is seeping through the opening.

Some fistulas may close on their own over time, while others may require surgery and regular monitoring to prevent severe conditions, such as sepsis.

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