What Causes Bad Smelling Urine? Your Symptoms Explained

Urine could have foul, strong, or sweet smelling characteristics. The most common causes of bad smelling urine are dehydration, dietary changes, or a side-effect of medication. Less commonly, strong smelling urine can also be caused by infection, high blood sugar, or liver damage. Read below for more information on associated symptoms, other causes and foods that make your urine smell, and treatment options.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 2 Possible Bad Smelling Urine Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Common Urine Odor Symptoms

Urine is meant to have a mild odor. If you are well-hydrated, urine may not smell like anything, or it may take on the aroma of something you ate or drank, like asparagus or coffee. A strong, undesirable smell, especially if it keeps occurring, can be a sign of illness [1].

Common characteristics of bad smelling urine

If you're experiencing bad smelling urine, it can take on the following characteristics.

  • An ammonia smell
  • An overly sweet, almost sugary smell
  • A musty smell
  • A foul smell
  • A sulfurous smell

Duration of bad smelling urine

How long bad smelling urine lasts depends on the cause.

  • Temporary: A bout of bad or foul-smelling urine will resolve quickly if it's due to foods or drinks. It may last days if due to an infection.
  • Persistent: Conditions like diabetes or liver failure may cause bad smelling urine that last weeks or months if not treated.

Who is most often affected?

The following people are more likely to experience bad smelling urine.

  • Anyone who regularly eats pungent foods, like asparagus
  • People who take vitamin B6 or some medications
  • Sexually active and older women: UTIs are more likely among these women [2].
  • Anyone with diabetes or liver or kidney failure
  • People who are dehydrated or wake up dehydrated

Is bad or foul-smelling urine serious?

The severity of your bad smelling urine depends on the cause.

  • Not serious: Any changes in urine smell are often due to dehydration, eating certain foods, or starting a new supplement or medication. If you have no other symptoms, it's rarely a concern.
  • Moderately serious: If there is also an unusual color to the urine, along with a persistent and very disagreeable odor, you may have a condition that should be treated.
  • Serious: If you have the above signs along with pain or other symptoms of illness, you should see your medical provider as soon as possible.

Why Your Urine Smells

Many conditions can have bad or foul-smelling urine as a symptom. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.

Dehydration

Dehydration can be due to more than not drinking enough water [1,3].

  • Poor hydration: Not drinking enough water causes dark, concentrated urine with a bad odor.
  • Drinking alcohol: Dehydration from alcohol may cause bad smelling urine as well as hangover headaches.
  • Medication: Some medications and supplements cause increased urination. Diuretics rid the body of excess fluid but can leave you somewhat dehydrated.
  • Heavy exercise with sweating: This can also lead to dehydration.

Food, supplements, and medication causes

Food or medication can cause bad smelling urine.

  • Asparagus: This vegetable is a well-known offender when it comes to causing a strong smell to the urine, due to its high sulfur content [1].
  • Garlic, onions, leafy vegetables, and eggs: These foods all contain sulfur, but like asparagus, they are good for you, and there is no need to avoid them. Any smell they give to the urine is harmless [1,2].
  • Vitamin B6: Also called pyridoxine, this may cause a strong smell to the urine from doses that exceed 10 mg per day.

Medical causes

Medical conditions can cause bad smelling urine.

  • Bacterial infection: Inflammation of any part of the urinary tract can give urine a foul smell [4].
  • High blood sugar: This condition causes a strong, sweet smell to the urine [5].
  • Liver damage: This condition causes a sweet, musty smell of both the breath and the urine because toxins are not properly filtered out of the blood [1].

2 Possible Bad Smelling Urine Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced bad smelling urine. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and urethra. Urinary tract infections are usually caused by infections by fecal bacteria.

Symptoms of urinary tract infections include pain with urination (dysuria), ...

Read more

Bad Smelling Urine Symptom Checker

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Non-specific change in urine

Urine is the product of the kidneys filtering the blood from waste products and excess water. Depending on what you eat, the color and odor of your urine can change. Beets are known to turn urine pink or red, which can be mistaken for blood. Asparagus sometimes gives a distinctive smell. Medication can also change smell and color of your urine.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: a change in either color of odor of urine, frequent urination

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific change in urine: a change in either color of odor of urine

Symptoms that never occur with non-specific change in urine: painful urination, bright red (bloody) urine, fever, frequent urination

Urgency: Wait and watch

When and How to Treat Smelly Urine

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment for bad smelling urine if you experience the following.

  • You have extreme fatigue, ongoing thirst, and increased urination: Along with a strangely sweet smell to the urine
  • You have back pain: Along with chills, fever, and foul-smelling urine that looks pink or red
  • You have ongoing fatigue with yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice): Along with swollen ankles, and a musty smell to the urine and breath [6,7]

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment if you experience the following.

  • You are on a diuretic medication and have bad-smelling urine: Your physician may change or adjust the dosage of the diuretic.
  • You have lower abdominal pain with foul-smelling urine
  • You have foul-smelling urine and urinary urgency or frequency

At-home treatments

You can try the following treatments at home.

  • Drink more water on a regular basis
  • Take vitamin C tablets [8]
  • Drink green tea [8]
  • Drink unsweetened cranberry juice or take over-the-counter cranberry concentrate tablets: Do not use cranberry products if you've had a kidney stone or you are taking a blood-thinning medication (an anticoagulant) [9].

FAQs About Bad Smelling Urine

Here are some frequently asked questions about bad smelling urine.

Can bad smelling urine be an STD?

Yes, foul-smelling urine can be due to an STD, also known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Sexually transmitted infections and bladder infections can change the smell of urine. Trichomonas can cause vaginal discharge that has a fishy odor. A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause pus within the urine that may be pungent and foul-smelling. Foods can also change the smell of urine. Pungent foods include coffee or asparagus. Because "bad" smells are subjective, you can mistake bad smelling urine as an infection [10].

Can pregnancy cause bad smelling urine?

Yes. Pregnancy can increase the chances of a bladder infection because the gravid (pregnant) uterus can change the ability of the bladder to empty sufficiently. The bladder with urine in it for a long time can allow bacteria to grow and produce foul-smelling urine. If this happens, it should be treated immediately [11].

Does bad smelling urine mean infection?

Foul-smelling urine can come from many sources, often bladder infection. If you have a sudden change in the smell of your urine, this may be due to foods or vitamins (e.g. B vitamins, asparagus). However, a change in the smell of urine (or the appearance) is a hint that you may have a bladder infection. This infection can be due to improper hygiene, catheterizations, kidney stones, or anything that keeps you from completely voiding your bladder [11,12].

Is foul smelling urine a sign of dehydration?

Dehydration may increase the concentration of your urine. Urine is also often darker. Foul-smelling urine is different than urine that smells stronger. The color may change from yellow to orange or cloudy or red. These changes may signal a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which require medical attention [13].

What causes bad smelling urine with no other symptoms?

Eating foods that are partially excreted through the urinary tract can change the smell of urine and cause "bad smelling urine." Asparagus is a common culprit. Usually, foul-smelling urine is associated with infections and can happen in the absence of other symptoms. It may also present with bladder pain and possibly fever or chills. Dehydration and concentration of urine can also increase the intensity of the smell of urine.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Bad Smelling Urine

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • Have you noticed any changes in the color of your urine recently?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you ever had a urinary tract infection?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your bad smelling urine. These questions are also covered.

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Bad Smelling Urine Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced bad smelling urine have also experienced:

  • 8% Vaginal Discharge
  • 6% Painful Urination
  • 5% Vaginal Itch Or Burning

People who have experienced bad smelling urine were most often matched with:

  • 100% Urinary Tract Infection

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Bad Smelling Urine Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your bad smelling urine

References

  1. Smelly Urine. NHS. Published October 16, 2017. NHS Link
  2. Lowe M. NHS: University Hospitals Birmingham. Published December 2017. UHB Link
  3. Dehydration. NHS. Published February 6, 2017. NHS Link
  4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). NHS. Published December 12, 2017. NHS Link
  5. Husney A, Thompson EG, Gabica MJ. Urine Test. Healthwise. Published October 9, 2017. Healthwise Link
  6. Chronic Kidney Disease Symptoms. National Kidney Center. NKC Link
  7. Common Characteristics of Liver Disease. John Hopkins Medicine. John Hopkins Medicine Link
  8. Jackson CB, Taubenberger SP, Botelho E, Journel J, Tennstedt SL. Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Urinary Symptoms: Use in a Diverse Population Sample Qualitative Study. Urologic Nursing Journal. 2012;32(3):149-157. PubMed Link
  9. Thompson EG, Selfert AL. Cranberry Juice and Urinary Tract Infections. American College of Cardiology: CardioSmart. Published May 16, 2011. CardioSmart Link
  10. Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Link
  11. Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. Published March 10, 2017. American Pregnancy Association Link
  12. What Can Cause a Urine Tract Infection? Alzheimer's Society. Alzheimer's Society Link
  13. What STDs Cause Frequent Urination? STD.GOV. Published May 10, 2018. STD.GOV Link