No one really wants to think about it, but urination is a necessity of life and health. And in addition to the (literally) relief of peeing, the characteristics of your pee hold important clues about what’s going on in your body.
It’s quite useful, actually. Your bladder can tell you when you’re well hydrated or if you need to drink more water, and when something is off and it’s time to talk to your doctor.
Most of the time we just go about our business and the next thing we think about is washing our hands. But sometimes you may notice that something is different in your urine. Maybe it’s dark yellow and smells stronger than usual. Maybe it’s cloudy or burnt out. When should you talk to a doctor?
By the way, no health topic is embarrassing for doctors. But we understand it. talking about what happens in the bathroom can feel awkward. We are here to answer the question. What does my urine say about my health? We’ll discuss how the urinary system works, how to tell if your urination is normal, and what to do when it’s not.
What is urine? How does the urinary system work?
Your urinary system has an important purpose: it filters waste and excess fluid from your blood, creating a byproduct called urine (or urine), and then expels it from your body. Several different organs make up the urinary tract, and they work together in a certain order. Your urinary system includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra.
Your kidneys are two fist-sized organs located on either side of your spine under your rib cage. The kidneys keep the body’s fluids filtered and balanced by removing liquid waste (called urea) and keeping water and important chemicals like sodium and potassium at the right levels. Each day, your kidneys filter about 120-150 liters of blood to balance fluids and remove waste. In total, your kidneys produce about 1-2 liters of urine per day.
Ureters and bladder
After your kidneys have done their work, the urine travels through the ureters (two thin tubes) and into the bladder. Your bladder, located in your pelvis between your hip bones, is a balloon-like organ that stretches and expands as it fills with urine. It serves as a sort of holding tank for urine until it is time to remove it. Because urine contains waste and bacteria, it is important to urinate frequently. If pee is held in for too long, or if the bladder is not completely emptied when you go, bacteria have a chance to multiply, leading to a greater risk of infection.
We cannot voluntarily control our kidneys, but we can control our bladder. So when we feel the urge to urinate (the urge to pee) and decide it’s the right time and place to go, we use our pelvic floor muscles to squeeze our bladder and push the urine out. This sends urine into a connected tube called the urethra, which then exits the body so our urine can pass out. Women and men both have a urethra, although their anatomical location is different.
Healthy urine is usually pale to medium yellow in color, clear, and has a mild urine odor. These characteristics tell you that you are drinking enough water and there is nothing obviously abnormal.
When we’re dehydrated, our urine will have a strong ammonia smell and look dark yellow or amber because it hasn’t been diluted with enough water. Immediately after increasing your water intake, you should notice that the color and smell of your urine become more normal again.
Check your urine regularly so you know what’s normal for you and you’ll be able to act more quickly if something seems out of whack.
Signs that your urination is not normal
Urination can be abnormal for several reasons. Most of these are nothing to worry about, but sometimes it can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Here are some signs that your pee may not be healthy:
Dark yellow or amber urine
Dark yellow or amber-colored urine is highly concentrated, indicating that you are very dehydrated and need to drink water as soon as possible. Even drinking a glass or two after noticing a dark yellow outline can make all the difference the next time you go. When your urine returns to a lighter yellow color, you’ll know you’re re-hydrated.
Clear or colorless urine
Urine that is completely colorless and looks like water is a sign that you are overhydrated. (Yes, that’s a real thing.) Too much water in your system can dilute your body’s delicate balance of water, sodium, and electrolytes. Overhydration can lead to something called water intoxication. Your kidneys can usually handle it if you drink more water than usual (even much more than usual), but too much water can lead to serious health problems. Severe cases of overhydration are rare, but if your electrolytes drop too quickly, it can be life-threatening.
Pink or red urine
Urine that is pink, red, or rusty brown in color indicates the presence of blood. When there is blood in the urine, it is called hematuria. Hematuria can occur for a variety of reasons, including kidney stones, kidney disease, urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney injury (often from a hit in a contact sport), prostate enlargement, cancer, or another condition. If you notice blood in your urine, don’t worry, but make an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as possible. They may run lab tests on your urine or refer you to a urologist to help diagnose what’s causing it.
When your urine appears cloudy or milky, there can be many reasons, including dehydration, kidney stones, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), UTIs, or other changes in your health. Try drinking more water to see if that changes it to a clear, light yellow color. If that doesn’t help, talk to your doctor right away, especially if you have other symptoms, such as pain or a burning sensation when you urinate.
Urine that smells bad
Just like the symptoms mentioned above, the smell of your urine can have many causes. Some of these include dehydration (high concentrations of ammonia), certain foods (most commonly asparagus), vitamins and supplements, or an underlying medical condition. If you’re well hydrated, haven’t eaten asparagus recently, and aren’t taking any vitamins that could be causing this, talk to your doctor right away.
Other symptoms when you urinate
In addition to the color and smell of your urine, if you notice other symptoms such as pain, a burning sensation, a sudden urge to urinate, leakage of urine, or anything else, these may be signs of an underlying problem that may require timely treatment. Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling so you can get a diagnosis and treatment plan if needed.
Everyone is on their own schedule, but in general, peeing 6-8 times in a 24-hour period is considered normal for a healthy, non-pregnant person. If you are in the bathroom more often, you may urinate more often.
Another condition often confused with frequent urination is overactive bladder (OAB). Overactive bladder is a separate condition that makes you feel like you have to urinate more often than necessary, or you feel a sudden strong urge to urinate.
A bladder-related condition is urinary incontinence, which is the involuntary urination that can lead to leakage. Incontinence is more common as people get older, but can also occur after childbirth or for other reasons. Pelvic floor therapy can help.
Keep yourself (and your pee) healthy
Urination is important. it’s how liquid waste leaves our bodies, and it keeps many of our other systems running smoothly. Here are some things to keep in mind that can help keep your urinary tract (and the rest of you) healthy.
Drink lots of water
Our body is made up of 50-60% water, depending on the person. And the proportion of water in our blood is even higher: 90%. That’s why it’s so important to drink enough water every day. Among many other benefits, staying hydrated regulates your temperature, helps you maintain healthy blood pressure, delivers oxygen and nutrients to your cells, improves constipation, and is, of course, important for your urinary system.
So how much water should we drink every day? In general, the recommended daily intake of water for a healthy person is 4-6 glasses. Aim to drink enough to use the bathroom at least every few hours. If you have certain health conditions or take diuretic medication, your doctor may recommend drinking more water than average.
Physical activity has many benefits for our overall health, from helping us maintain a healthy weight to improving stress. It’s even good for our urinary tract health. Regular exercise can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to provide greater support to the urinary system and better muscle control. Exercise also helps our bodies metabolize food and fluids more efficiently and can prevent constipation.
Be careful about your food, drinks and medicines
Certain foods and drinks can irritate your bladder. Some of these include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, chocolate, acidic fruits (primarily citrus), etc.
Go when you have to go
When you feel the need to pee, don’t wait too long. The more time urine spends sitting in the bladder, the more likely it is for bacteria to grow and possibly cause an infection.
Empty the bladder completely
For the same reason, always try to empty your bladder until there is nothing left. When it’s emptied each time, there’s a lot less bacteria hanging out in your urinary tract, reducing the risk of infection.
Do not strain to urinate
Your bladder is designed to release urine very efficiently by simply gently squeezing the muscles surrounding the bladder. There is no need to strain the abdominal muscles as you would with a bowel movement. Exercising more pressure can cause strain on your pelvic muscles and can lead to incontinence problems. If you feel like you have to use more force to pass your urine, it could be a sign of a urinary tract problem and you should talk to your doctor.
Do pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, are small squeezing movements that can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. they are the ones that support your bladder and other urinary tract functions. Strengthening these muscles can give you more control over your urinary and bowel movements, and can even relieve pelvic pain. Kegel exercises are sometimes described as pretending to pee but then holding it.
When to Talk to a Doctor About Irregular Urine
Peeing isn’t the funnest subject, but if you pay attention, it can hold important clues about your health.
Next time you’re on the toilet, try to remember the healthy urination chart. Once you become more aware of what certain changes in your urine may mean, you’ll have a better idea of what your body is telling you. Sometimes it’s just a cue to drink more water, but if you notice changes like cloudiness, blood, bad breath, or anything else out of the ordinary, make it a priority to talk to your doctor. Whether it’s your primary care doctor, your OB-GYN doctor, or your child’s pediatrician, they’re all there to help.
You can also get convenient care at the practice for things like UTIs, as well as about 60 other conditions. Virtuwell is a simple, convenient and affordable way to get care online for your whole family.