“Healthy urine shouldn’t have a strong odour,” Micheal Sam-Yorke, a pharmacist and clinician, asserted. “Our urine consists mainly of water and should generally be odourless.” There can, however, be times when urine takes on an odour, because of reasons varying from dehydration to cystitis (bladder inflammation).
The NHS explains that cystitis – a urinary tract infection (UTI) – can lead to:
- Pain, burning or stinging when you pee
- Needing to pee more often and urgently than usual
- Pee that’s dark, cloudy or strong smelling
- Pain low down in your tummy.
The health body adds: “Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria from poo getting into the tube [urethra] that carries urine out of your body.”
Factors that could lead to poo getting into the urethra include:
- Having sex
- Wiping your bottom from back to front after going to the toilet
- Urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- Using spermicide with contraception
- Conditions that block the urinary tract, such as kidney stones
- Being pregnant
- Conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder, such as an enlarged prostate gland in men
- Having been through the menopause
- Having diabetes
- Having a weakened immune system.
Moving on, even certain foods can cause urine to smell, such as garlic, asparagus, and coffee.
“An odour in urine is not usually a bad thing unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms,” said Micheal.
Smelly urine accompanied by “blood in your urine”, a “burning sensation”, or “frequent trips to the bathroom” could indicate that there is a problem.
However, “changes in the smell can be an indication of a problem”, Micheal added.
“For example, a strong smell of ammonia can be a sign of a UTI or dehydration.”
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Micheal added: “A distinct fishy odour could be caused by bacterial vaginosis (BV) in women.”
Symptoms of BV include “an unusual vaginal discharge [greyish-white, thin, and watery] that has a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex”, the NHS confirms.
“The condition is not usually serious, but you’ll need to be treated with antibiotics if you do have it.”
Meanwhile, “sweet-smelling urine” often occurs when there is too much sugar in urine, which could be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.
Three smells that could point to an underlying health condition:
- Strong ammonia smell
- Distinct fishy odour
- Sweet-smelling urine.
“Sometimes a bad smell in the urine often goes away on its own, mostly when it is down to dehydration or something that you’ve eaten,” said Micheal.
“I’d always recommend contacting your GP or local pharmacist if you notice any unusual changes in your urine,” he added.
“You’d be asked about certain lifestyle factors, any recent health changes,” Micheal stated.
“And, also, when you start to notice the odour and, in most cases, they will ask you to provide a urine sample.”
A urine sample helps to uncover any bacteria or other signs of an infection.
Micheal Sam-Yorke is a pharmacist, clinician and independent prescriber.
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