8 most common causes
Urine is normally clear and pale yellow, but it can be cloudy, darker in color, and foamy. Cloudy urine can be caused by something as common as mild dehydration or from eating a large amount of certain types of food or drinks. In these cases, the cloudiness is usually temporary and goes away on its own.
But other causes should be treated by your doctor, including urinary tract and yeast infections, kidney disease, and diabetes.
What does cloudy urine mean?
Your urine may appear cloudy if it’s too concentrated, meaning it contains less water than usual. Cloudiness can also occur if your urine contains white blood cells, pus, crystals or stones, or an excessive amount of proteins. These components may enter your urinary tract if you have an infection or condition such as kidney stones or diabetes.
Is cloudy urine a problem?
“Cloudy urine is very common and the majority of the causes are very easily treatable.”—Dr. Elizabeth Grand
When cloudy urine is serious
Serious causes of cloudy urine include diabetes and kidney disease. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to serious health problems, and sometimes even death. Diabetes can cause complications such as eye disease, heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage.
Complications of kidney disease include heart disease, irreversible damage to your kidneys, and a sudden rise in potassium in your blood (hyperkalemia) that can be life-threatening.
Call your doctor if you’re experiencing cloudy urine along with any of the following symptoms:
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Increased urinary frequency
- Urinary hesitancy (feeling like you have to urinate but only small amount comes out)
- Blood in your urine
- Penile or vaginal discharge
- Mild abdominal or back pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Increased thirst
If you’re experiencing cloudy urine with any of the following symptoms, you should call 911 or go to the ER right away:
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to urinate
- Severe abdominal or back pain
1 . Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough water. It can make your urine highly concentrated, and appear dark, murky, and cloudy. Older people are particularly vulnerable to dehydration. It occurs in 17% to 28% of older adults in the U.S. Warmer temperatures, physical activity, and a diet high in salty foods can increase your risk of becoming dehydrated.
Other symptoms include increased thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, and dry skin.
Dehydration is treated by drinking more fluid. Severe dehydration, however, is an emergency and you may need intravenous fluids to recover.
2. Urinary tract infections
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary system, which includes the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. UTIs are very common, particularly in women. It’s estimated that 50% to 60% of women will experience a UTI at least once in their lives.
UTIs are typically caused by bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli. If it isn’t treated, it can spread to your kidneys. Urine appears cloudy when white blood cells, which are made by your body to fight the infection, enter your urinary tract.
Other symptoms include bloody urine, increased frequency/urgency, urinary hesitancy, pain or burning when you urinate, lower abdominal pain, or fever.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics.
Can you have cloudy urine without an infection?
“Cloudy urine does not always mean infection. While infections make up a large number of the causes of cloudy urine, there are also many non-infectious causes.” —Dr. Grand
3. Kidney stones
Kidney stones are small, hard masses made of minerals, like calcium, that form in your kidneys. About 1 in 11 people in the U.S. have them, according to a study in European Urology. Small fragments of the stone that pass when you urinate can make your urine look cloudy. Kidney stones sometimes cause an infection, which can cause cloudy urine.
Other symptoms of kidney stones include blood in the urine, severe flank, lower back, or abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
Risk factors include dehydration, obesity, high-sodium diets, inflammatory bowel disease, and recurrent UTIs.
Some kidney stones pass on their own without treatment. You can help flush the stone from your urinary tract by staying hydrated. Medications called alpha-blockers (such as tamsulosin) are often prescribed to help relax the muscles in the wall of the urinary tract, which makes it easier for the stone to pass.
If the stone is too large, you may need to have a procedure to remove it, such as with shock waves to break it up, or surgery.
4. Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also known as sexually transmitted diseases) are transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse. Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI in the U.S. In 2019, over 1.8 million cases were reported to the CDC. Other common STIs include gonorrhea (a bacterial infection) and trichomoniasis, which is a parasitic infection.
STIs often cause discharge or pus, which can make its way to the urinary tract, making urine appear cloudy. Other symptoms include pain when you urinate, foul odor, vaginal or penile itching, pain during sex, and fever.
STIs are treated with antibiotics or antiparasitic medications.
5. Yeast infection
Yeast infections are very common, accounting for an estimated 1.4 million doctor visits each year, according to the CDC. The yeast (called candida) is a type of fungus that’s typically found on your skin and sometimes in your vagina. The fungus can overgrow and cause an infection. Infections are more likely to happen after taking antibiotics or during pregnancy.
The white discharge from the infection can get into your urine, making it cloudy. Other symptoms include vaginal itching or burning, pain during sexual intercourse, and redness of the vulva.
Yeast infections are treated with antifungal medication, such as fluconazole. It can be taken as an over-the-counter suppository inserted inside the vagina, or as an oral pill prescribed by your doctor. The suppository medication is usually used for 3 to 7 days, whereas you may only need one or two doses of the pill to clear the yeast infection.
If you’re prone to developing a yeast infection after taking antibiotics, your doctor may give you an oral antifungal medication at the same time the antibiotics are prescribed to prevent an infection from occurring.
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland. The prostate is the part of the male reproductive system that is responsible for producing seminal fluid. This is the main component of semen and helps nourish and protect sperm. Prostatitis is estimated to affect 2% to 10% of men, according to the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.
There are two main types of prostatitis, acute and chronic. Acute is typically caused by a bacterial infection.
Prostatitis causes your body to produce white blood cells or pus that can enter the urethra, the tube in the penis that transports semen and urine out of the body. The pus can combine with urine and make it look cloudy.
Other symptoms include blood in your urine, difficulty or pain when urinating, increased urinary frequency, and groin or lower back pain.
Acute and chronic prostatitis are both treated with antibiotics, but for different lengths of time. Other treatments may be given as well.
Diabetes is when your blood sugar (glucose) is too high. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is when your body doesn’t make enough insulin, the hormone that breaks down glucose. Type 2 is when your body makes insulin but is no longer able to use it properly. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 10 people have diabetes.
Diabetes can cause cloudy urine when your kidneys excrete excess glucose into your urine. This pulls water from your body and can lead to dehydration, which makes urine appear cloudy.
Also, people with diabetes are at increased risk of infections such as UTIs, another cause of cloudy urine. Finally, diabetes may lead to kidney disease, which can cause too much protein to be lost when you urinate. This makes urine frothy or bubbly.
Other symptoms include frequent urination, increased thirst, numbness in your fingertips and toes, and blurred vision or vision loss.
Treatment depends on the type you have and its severity. Type 1 is treated with insulin, typically by injection. Type 2 can be treated with insulin injections, oral medications, or non-insulin injectable medications.
Your doctor will also recommend a diet low in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and pastries. Weight loss (if necessary) and regular exercise are also important parts of controlling diabetes, particularly for people who have type 2 diabetes.
8. Kidney disease
Kidneys filter blood so that waste and excess water is excreted when you urinate. But if you have kidney disease, this filtration system doesn’t work well, allowing substances to be excreted in your urine that shouldn’t be there (or at least not in high amounts). Excess protein, for example, can cause urine to appear foamy and bubbly. It is the hallmark of nephrotic syndrome, which is a particular set of symptoms caused by certain kidney diseases.
Other symptoms include blood in your urine, low urine output, fatigue, whole-body itching, swelling, especially in lower legs, feet, and eyes, and difficulty breathing.
The treatment of kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome depends on the cause. Diuretics are often taken to help regulate body fluid levels. Blood pressure medications called ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers may be prescribed. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may be given immunosuppressive medications.
9. Food and drinks
If you eat a lot of certain types of food or drinks, it can make your urine appear cloudy. Examples include those that contain a lot of:
- Phosphorus (meats, milk, and cheese products)
- Purines, which are found in certain types of seafood (sardines, anchovies), meats (bacon, liver), and alcoholic beverages
- Fructose, such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
Cloudy urine caused by your diet is usually harmless. But if you’re experiencing cloudy urine and additional symptoms, see your doctor.
What does cloudy urine look like?
“I will ask a patient to describe in more detail what the urine looks like—specifically the color, how transparent it is, presence of foaminess, and if there are any stones or other small deposits in the urine. Also, have you noticed any blood in the urine?” —Dr. Grand
Cloudy urine in the morning
You may notice that your urine appears darker or cloudier when you first wake up in the morning. This is normal and doesn’t require treatment. Because you don’t drink fluids while you’re sleeping, your urine is more concentrated in the morning. Once you start drinking, your urine will return to its usual clear, pale yellow color.
Cloudy urine during pregnancy
Certain conditions that can cause cloudy urine are more common during pregnancy. These include UTIs, yeast infections, dehydration, and kidney stones. If your urine becomes cloudy while you’re pregnant, you should always tell your doctor.
Cloudy or foamy urine may also be a sign of preeclampsia, a very serious medical condition that causes high blood pressure in pregnant women (usually after the 20th week). Preeclampsia causes protein in the urine, giving urine a foamy and cloudy appearance.
Preeclampsia can be life threatening for you and your baby. See your doctor immediately or go to the ER if you have symptoms of preeclampsia, which include severe headaches, blurred vision or other vision problems, severe abdominal pain, or severe shortness of breath.
The best treatment of preeclampsia is to deliver your child. But if it’s too early in your pregnancy, you may be prescribed blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, or anticonvulsant medications. If you have severe preeclampsia, you may need to be hospitalized.
If you notice that your urine is cloudy or foamy, see your doctor. You’ll likely be asked to provide a urine sample, which will be tested for white blood cells, red blood cells, proteins, glucose, and bacteria in the urine. You may need further testing depending on the results.
Treatment depends on the cause. Infections are typically treated with antibiotics or antifungals. Kidney stones, kidney disease, and diabetes will require further testing and other medications.
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