What does the color of your pee reveal about your health? Doctors explain

A hand reaches out to flush a toilet.
The color of your urine can serve as an indication of your health. (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you’re the queen of England or a newborn baby, everyone pees. The average person flushes five to six times a day, but urine is not something most people typically keep a close eye on — unless they suddenly notice an unusual color in the toilet.

Despite what you might have heard, clear urine is not the only hallmark of good health. A range of colors is acceptable.

First, why do you need to pee?

Urine is made up of excess water, electrolyte salts and other waste. The kidneys produce urine, which finds its way into the bladder and is later excreted. The bladder fills up, and eventually reaches a point when it can’t hold anymore, which causes the sensation that informs you that you must make a visit to the bathroom.

This process is necessary because it’s harmful to have too much water in your system. Dr. Mark Ellerkmann, director of the Center for Urogynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells Yahoo Life that toxins in the body and bloodstream need to be eliminated. As the kidneys filter the blood, they remove toxins and extra water to make urine.

Of course, if your pee is coming out a blood orange color, it’s normal to be concerned. Some health conditions can change the color of urine. Fortunately, experts say, there are also many nonmedical reasons for such changes.

Why does urine change color?

Ellerkmann says that the shade can depend on urine concentration, which influences a natural pigment called urochrome. When the urine is more concentrated (with less water and more waste product), it’s darker. When you’re hydrated, the urine is less concentrated and you have a clear or light color.

Other things, for example, your medication, your diet and any infections you may experience, can cause the urine to change color. “Your color can vary depending on your hydration status. Any transient changes in urine color should not alarm you,” Ellerkmann says.

So what does the color of your urine mean?

The color of your urine can serve as a window to your health.

If your urine is yellow…

If you’re well-hydrated, your urine will probably be a clear or light yellow. Ellerkmann explains that this has to do with maintaining a balance of fluids as the kidneys eliminate excess fluid in the body. “We don’t want to become dehydrated, but we also don’t want to become over-hydrated,” he says. “This whole concept of homeostasis and fluid management is something the kidneys handle.”

When a person is getting enough water, the kidney flushes out the excess, leaving a clear, lighter color. With dehydration, the kidney holds on to the fluids, and the urine is darker.

“Generally, I tell patients to drink enough water to keep their urine light yellow, but that amount can be different for everybody,” Dr. Jason Kim, associate professor of urology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University and director of the Women's Pelvic Health and Continence Center at Stony Brook Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.

If your urine is orange…

One of the most common explanations for orange urine is medication. Kim explains that pyridium is frequently prescribed for urinary tract infections (UTIs), and that one of its side effects is that it turns urine a reddish-orange. This is a sign that the medicine is doing its job, and the color will go away once you stop taking the medication. Some laxatives and certain chemotherapy drugs have the same effect.

Kim says taking high amounts of vitamin also produce a bright yellow or orange urine. These vitamins, such as riboflavin, are water-soluble and not completely absorbed by the body. When there is too much vitamin B, the kidneys filter and remove the excess, resulting in a lot of bright yellow to orange urine. Another nutrient responsible for orange urine is beta carotene, the pigment that gives carrots its orange color.

If your urine has a blue or green tint…

Kim says medications including some anesthetics, such as propofol, have occasionally turned urine blue. For those undergoing a procedure or medical intervention, doctors can sometimes use certain dyes that can make the urine look blue.

Eating foods with strong food coloring dyes can also cause urine to turn a shade of blue or green.

If your urine is brown…

If you're dehydrated, your urine may have a brown hue to it. Kim says dark brown urine indicates you're not drinking enough fluids, because your urine is too concentrated.

But if you’re chugging water regularly, Ellerkmann says one reason for brown urine is that you’ve recently eaten some blackberries. If that’s the case, he says the urine color change is harmless and probably means you have just eaten a lot of the fruit in a short time.

However, according to the Mayo Clinic, some liver and kidney disorders, as well as some urinary tract infections, can turn urine dark brown and warrant a doctor’s visit.

If your urine is cloudy…

Cloudy urine and a burning sensation or difficulty urinating can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Kim says it’s important to see your doctor for a workup and get the right antibiotics for quick relief.

If your urine is dark or red…

While reddish pee can be due to eating certain types of produce — “some vegetables with vitamin B, rhubarb or beets can cause red urine,” notes Kim — a dark hue may represent blood in the urine, also called hematuria.

Ellerkmann says this can be caused by several conditions involving the bladder and kidneys. “If it has more of a coffee grounds appearance, that would be very concerning,” he says. It can be a sign of blood in the urine from kidney stones, kidney cancer or bladder cancer.

One indicator that dark urine is from blood, says Ellerkmann, is if it continues to show up for several days. “Persistent bright-red blood, bloody urine or very dark-colored urine should be evaluated,” he says.

When to go to the doctor

Blood in the urine is never normal and can signal a serious medical condition that should alert you to see your health care provider or a urologist immediately. A range of health problems involves blood in the urine, including:

  • Kidney stones

  • Cancer

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Kidney disease

  • Bladder disease

“The American Medical Association recommends a workup if there's blood in the urine, and this would include specialized urine tests, along with some sort of imaging tests such as a CAT [computerized tomography] scan and a cystoscopy,” Kim explains.

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