Every time you pee, you have the chance to learn something about yourself—from how hydrated you are to whether some of your vital organs may be showing signs of dysfunction.
To help people decode the colors showing up in their toilet bowl, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio created an infographic detailing what a range of urine colors, from transparent to yellow to pink, may indicate about a person’s health. Many shifts in urine color can be explained simply by how hydrated your body is at any given moment, according to Dr. Daniel Shoskes, a urologist at Cleveland Clinic.
But if your pee starts to look particularly strange, other factors may be to blame. “There are colors that point to specific organs. When you have blood in the urine, that’s a sign that there’s something coming from the urinary tract, kidneys, bladder, prostate, or urethra,” Shoskes said. “If it’s something that is more brownish, it can point to a problem with the liver, but really looking at the urine grossly is just a very first kind of screening indication that maybe more needs to be done in terms of looking at it under microscope.”
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Here, Shoskes helps us decode the numerous shades that may show up in your urine:
Transparent: If your pee is completely clear, it may be a sign that you are drinking too much water. “There can be rare risks with drinking a very large amount of water [including] diluting the salts in the body,” Shoskes said. “But in general, if you’re drinking so much that your urine looks like water, you probably are drinking more than you need.” That being said, over-hydration rarely causes serious health issues. “You’re probably not causing yourself great harm unless you are forcing yourself to drink far beyond what you need,” he noted.
Pale straw to amber or honey: Lighter shades of yellow indicate that you are probably well-hydrated—but as the color darkens, it could be a sign you need to refuel with fluids.
Syrup or brown ale: If you’re noticing shades of brown in your urine, it could simply be a sign that you are dehydrated. However, it’s worth getting checked out by a doctor because brown urine could also be indicative of a problem in the liver, Shoskes said. “If there is liver disease or bile, some of the bile salts that the liver should be processing and eliminating through stool are hanging around in blood and ending up in urine—people with severe liver disease can have brown urine,” he said. “That’s something that can be determined rather quickly by a dip stick test of urine.” If brownish urine is starting to worry you, consult your doctor to get it checked out.
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Pink to reddish: See an unexplained red hue in the bowl? That could be a major problem, according to Shoskes. “In urology our most prominent [warning sign] is red, which, while it can come from food you’ve eaten and other substances you’ve ingested, if it is coming from blood it can often mean a problem.” If you notice a pink or red tint to your urine—even once—it’s worth seeing a doctor, Shoskes advised. “There’s a huge list of conditions both benign and malignant that can cause [blood in the urine], anything from medical kidney disease to a UTI, stones in the kidneys or bladder or the more serious cancers of the kidney, bladder, prostate,” he said. Once a doctor analyzes a urine sample, he will quickly be able to determine if the pink or red tint is actually caused by blood or something else—and can proceed with the appropriate course of action.
Blue or green: For most people, seeing blue or green urine in the toilet bowl would be quite the shock—and urine of this color is very rare, according to Shoskes. While some little-known diseases, including porphyria—an inherited enzyme condition—can result in a person having blue or green urine, a change in urine color wouldn’t be the first sign of disease among sufferers.
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Sometimes, people can urinate in strange colors after eating dyed foods as well, Shoskes said. “It depends how well [the dyes] are absorbed by the gut and how easily they pass into the kidney—there will be many food dyes and substances that simply don’t get absorbed and make their way out of the GI tract,” Shoskes said, noting that this is why feces often contains various colors. “And when they do get excreted in urine they can certainly cause a change and there may be some genetic factor in how that happens. But for many people, [food dye] never affects them.” Certain medications can also be responsible for bizarre changes in urine color, Shoskes noted.
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Non-color factors: Does your urine smell weird? It’s probably nothing to fret about, according to Shoskes. “Smell of the urine usually is not such a direct indicator of a disease,” Shoskes noted. “It’s much more of an indicator of foods you’ve eaten or medications you may be taking.”
Sometimes the consistency of urine can also appear strange—for example, if urine looks foamier than usual. While this may simply be a result of urinating with more force than usual, it can occasionally be an indicator of a health-related symptom. “While usually not an issue, just an effect of how strongly you’re urinating, occasionally [foaminess] can be a sign of protein in the urine,” Shoskes said. Protein in the urine can be an indicative of a kidney problem—so if you’re concerned, ask your doctor to perform a urine analysis.
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Overall, Shoskes said people should feel comfortable talking to their physician if they notice anything strange about their urine—and should make sure that doctors always perform a urine analysis during regular physicals. “Urine is something that most of us look at our own several times a day and will wonder [about],” Shoskes said. “[Noticing urine color] is a starting point, for discussion with your doctor, not a way to make final diagnoses.”
Culled from prevention.com