Urine odor

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 13, 2015
StartSymptomsUrine odor

Every individual has a light odor to their urine. By becoming accustomed to that smell, one is able to notice even subtle changes. Over time, repeated behaviors can be matched to associated alterations in urine color, clarity and odor. Drastic or prolonged changes then may provide insight into physical needs, cause alarm or signal a bigger health issue.


Definition & Facts

Normal urine typically flows from the body with only light odor. Significant changes in the smell of urine are frequent, according to a variety of factors such as diet, fluid intake and medications.

Urine scent is usually described using a variety of descriptors ranging from honeyed to very foul. For changes not explained through such normal causes, odd smelling urine can actually signal a medical problem.


Changes in urine odor may include a variety of causes or one primary condition can influence its scent. Overall, the smell of urine is attributed to substances excreted by the kidneys. Those substances can simply vary in concentration or volume during healthy physical cycles, thus affecting odor. Or, the body may be suffering imbalance or unhealthy changes which have altered those excretions or their concentration, altogether.

Pregnant women often notice changes in the scent of their urine. Changes in urine odor during pregnancy are usually symptoms of normal physical, hormonal, dietary and medication changes.

Water intake affects urine odor. Drinking a large amount of water each day more highly dilutes waste products in urine and suppresses their odor. If less water is consumed in the period of a day, urine can smell stronger than usual because those waste products are more highly concentrated in less fluid. This often results in a strong ammonia scent and is a clear sign of dehydration.

Foods can affect characteristics of urine. Asparagus is a widely-known culprit of change in scent, although only a percentage of the population are affected by this change. Scientists believe that this effect of eating asparagus is present for everyone, yet only some people possess the genetic encoding for identification of the smell.

Other foods known to cause urine odor changes include:

  • Curry
  • Salmon
  • Chili peppers
  • Alcohol
  • Puffed wheat
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Coffee
  • Garlic
  • Fenugreek

Medications and vitamins are often to blame for stronger scent of urine. Multivitamins can be responsible for drastic changes in color and smell. Most people notice these changes on the first day they start taking a multivitamin.

Medical conditions can sometimes cause odor changes in urine. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common for women than men and greatly change color and fragrance. About half of all women in the United States suffer at least one UTI in their lifetime.

During a UTI, excess mucus and white blood cells in urine can be blamed for offensive differences from regularly inoffensive clarity and scent. Along with these changes, most individuals experience frequent urination despite less fluid being passed from the body, urgency in urination, burning pain in the urethra and abdominal pain.

Other medical conditions often signaled or followed by a change in urine odor include:

When to see a doctor

Without pain or any other indication of a potential problem, foul smelling urine usually returns to normal within a day. If there is no pain, bleeding or other sign of a problem and odor is the exclusive cause of concern, drinking additional water can help reestablish normalcy in urine scent.

If the odor persists for days or is accompanied by abdominal pain, changes in urination frequency or volume, inability to urinate, extreme urgency, blood in the urine, fever, chills, burning sensations during urination, back pain or other signs of a problem, seeing a doctor is wise. Pregnant women should always seek attention if any of these symptoms are present.

Medical advice should also be sought if the odor is sugary-sweet, honeyed or smells of maple syrup. This can signal a problem associated with diabetes or another rare genetic condition.

Treatment & Therapy

Doctors often conduct routine analysis of urine using a urine chemical analyzer, referred to as a urinalysis. Urine test strips can also be used both at home and through a healthcare provider, for quick chemistry analysis of urine.

A urine culture is a specimen of urine collected through a "clean catch" process in the doctor's office or through insertion of a catheter through the urethra into the bladder. In less common situations, a needle may be inserted through the abdomen and into the bladder to collect sterile urine. This urine is then sent to a lab for analysis.

UTIs can become quite serious but are easily and quickly treated using oral antibiotics. Many people believe increased consumption of cranberry juice will fight a UTI. Antibiotics are most often required to fight infection within the environment of the bladder where bacteria growth is well-fostered, however. For comfort and to avoid prolonging pain and other symptoms, a UTI is best treated as early as possible.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

For prevention of urine odor problems, drinking plenty of water each day is the best course of action. Trips to the bathroom will increase with higher water consumption, so wise balance of improved intake with reasonable daily disruption is warranted. Over time, an individual can gauge how much water is optimum for their body's best performance and most normal urine conditions. An average is eight glasses of water per day.

People with diabetes often keep ketone test strips on hand for mindful management of their disease through periodic home testing of their urine chemistry. This is a good idea but is no substitution for following the doctor's orders for sugar intake, hydration and insulin management.

If a particular change in urine odor is offensive enough to warrant avoiding that change, keeping an eye on diet and other lifestyle factors can reveal preventable causes.

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