Cloudy urine can be unsettling, especially when a person does not know the cause. Sometimes it can signal an issue with the urinary tract, such as dehydration or a urinary tract infection, or it may point to kidney problems.
Each underlying cause of cloudy urine has additional symptoms, which can help a doctor make a diagnosis.
In this article, learn about the possible causes of cloudy urine, as well as how to treat them.
CausesCauses of cloudy urine can include:
Drinking more fluids may help treat cloudy urine. Cloudy urine, especially if it is dark, could indicate that a person is not consuming enough liquids.
Very young or very old people have a higher risk of dehydration. Also, anyone fighting off an illness that causes diarrhoea, vomiting, or a fever will need to drink more fluids.
Those who do strenuous exercise or physical labor during hot days may also have a higher risk for dehydration if they are not drinking enough water.
Dehydration can cause cloudy urine in some people, as well as other symptoms, including:
Severe dehydration can cause more severe symptoms, including disorientation, a loss of consciousness, or bloody or black stools. Seek emergency medical care for severe dehydration.
2. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI is another more common cause of cloudy or milky urine. If the urine smells particularly foul, a person may have an infection.
The cloudy look typically comes from discharge of either pus or blood into the urinary tract. It could also be a buildup of white blood cells as the body tries to eliminate invading bacteria.
UTIs can happen in anyone but are far more common in females, according to the United States Office on Women's Health.
Along with cloudy urine, a UTI can cause other symptoms, such as:
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Treating a UTI early can help relieve discomfort and prevent complications.
3. Kidney infection
Many kidney infections start as UTIs, which then spread due to lack of effective treatment and get worse over time.
Kidney infections cause similar symptoms to UTIs and may also cause additional symptoms, such as:
Kidney infections require immediate medical treatment. Without prompt treatment, this type of infection may lead to permanent kidney damage.
4. Sexually transmitted infection (STI)
According to the Office on Women's Health, about 20 million people in the U.S. get an STI every year.
Some common STIs, such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, may cause cloudy urine. Gonorrhea and chlamydia prompt the immune system to fight back and produce white blood cells, which may mix with the urine and give it a cloudy appearance.
These STIs may also cause unusual discharge from the vagina or penis. Other signs of an STI include:
Regular testing for STIs can help a person receive an early diagnosis and get treatment. Using protection during sexual activity may also help prevent the spread of STIs.
Soap products may cause inflammation of the vulva.Vulvovaginitis is inflammation in the vulva and vagina, and it can lead to cloudy urine.
Bacterial infections are the most common cause of vulvovaginitis, though the infection can also result from viruses or fungi.
In some cases, the body may react to ingredients in soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, or other products.
These reactions can cause inflammation in the vulva and vagina without an infection being present.
Other signs of vulvovaginitis include:
A doctor will want to determine whether the infection is bacterial, fungal, or viral before moving forward with treatment.
An inflamed prostate, or prostatitis, may also be the cause of cloudy urine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state that prostatitis affects between 10 and 15 percent of the males in the United States. It typically appears due to an infection in the prostate.
Other symptoms of prostatitis include:
7. Kidney stones
Kidney stones can also cause cloudy urine. They develop from the buildup of certain minerals in the body.
Small stones may pass without incident, but larger stones can block the urinary tract and cause an infection, which could lead to pus in the urine, giving it a cloudy appearance.
A common symptom of kidney stones is severe pain below the ribs, generally near the side or lower back. The pain may also occur in the groin and radiate to the lower abdomen or lower back.
Other symptoms of kidney stones include:
Some kidney stones do not require treatment. However, anyone who thinks that they may have kidney stones should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
In some cases, a person's diet can cause their urine to be cloudy. Anyone who consumes high amounts of vitamin D or phosphorus may notice cloudy urine as their kidneys filter the excess phosphorus out of their body.
The U.S. National Kidney Foundation state that protein-rich foods such as meat, beans, and dairy products may be higher in phosphorus.
9. Diabetes or kidney damage from diabetes
Sometimes diabetes or diabetic kidney disease is the underlying cause of cloudy urine. The body may be trying to remove excess sugars that it cannot process by sending them through the urine.
Other signs of diabetes may include issues such as:
Untreated, the issues from diabetes may ultimately lead to kidney failure.
Anyone who has diabetes or experiences these symptoms should talk to their doctor, who can check for signs of kidney damage.
The smell of urine often changes based on a person's diet or fluid intake. However, a strong fishy odor may be the first sign of a severe medical issue.
If fishy-smelling urine is the only symptom, a person may want to wait for a couple of days to see if it clears up. If other symptoms are present and include pain in the lower back or difficulty urinating, a person should contact their doctor.
In this article, we look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments for urine that smells like fish.
Is it normal?
A fishy smell is uncommon in urine. Many of the causes are not serious, but it can sometimes indicate a severe condition, such as damage to the kidneys or liver.
In many cases, the culprit responsible for the smell of fish is a chemical called trimethylamine oxide. When a fish dies and bacteria begin to decompose the tissue, this chemical is released and converted to trimethylamine (TMA), which causes the fishy odor.
A fishy smell in urine may be caused by the presence of bacteria, TMA, or an interaction between them.
According to a study from 2013, most healthy people produce chemicals that break down TMA, which stops them from smelling like fish, even when they have eaten fish recently or have a lot of bacteria in their systems.
If a person suspects that any of the following causes are responsible for the fishy smell, it is usually safe to wait a few days and see if the smell clears up without treatment.
Pregnancy can make the urine more concentrated. This can lead to a stronger smell, and it may make a fishy smell more noticeable. See a doctor if the smell does not disappear in a day or two.
Dehydration during pregnancy can make the urine look darker or smell worse. A person who is pregnant and noticing these symptoms should ensure that they are drinking enough water.
Vitamins and supplements
Some of these can make the urine smell fishy, especially supplements of calcium, vitamin B6, and vitamin D. The odor may be more noticeable when a person is dehydrated. If an individual stops taking these supplements and their urine still smells fishy, they should contact a doctor.
Certain foods, including asparagus and fish, can make the urine smell. If foods are responsible, the smell should go away after a few hours.
Fishy-smelling urine may be the first indication of a mild or severe health problem. Some people may have no other symptoms or several. In either case, a person should contact a doctor if they cannot identify the cause of a fishy odor.
The following causes often require medical attention:
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
A UTI occurs when too much harmful bacteria grow in the urinary tract. This can make the urine smell. In some people, a UTI causes no symptoms. When symptoms are present, they often include:
Most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, a UTI may spread to the kidneys.
Anyone who suspects that they have a UTI should see a doctor.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This bacterial infection in the vagina causes fishy, foul-smelling discharge. While it does not affect the urine, a person may notice the odor while using the bathroom.
The smell and other symptoms may get worse immediately after sex. Women with BV may believe that they have a yeast infection, but the smell is a distinguishing factor. Some other symptoms include:
BV is common in sexually active women. Some sexually transmitted infections may also cause an unusual odor, and it is important to see a doctor for testing.
Fish odor syndrome
Trimethylaminuria, better known as fish odor syndrome, is a rare disorder that causes a person's bodily emissions to smell like fish. The odor can arise from the saliva, sweat, or urine. A person develops this condition when they are not able to break down TMA.
In many cases, the disorder is passed genetically and causes no other symptoms. Less often, a person who has a diet very high in TMA and unusual bacteria in the gut can develop the syndrome.
A person emitting a fishy odor that persists, in spite of good hygiene, should see a doctor. Dietary changes, antibiotics, and nutritional supplements may help.
The kidneys filter the urine, which helps to remove toxins from the body. When the urine smells, it may indicate that the kidneys are not functioning correctly, often due to infections or kidney stones.
Symptoms of a kidney infection may include:
Kidney infections may require hospitalization, though some can be managed at home with antibiotics. Anyone with symptoms of a kidney infection should see a doctor right away.
Kidney stones are mineral deposits that collect in the kidneys. They can be as small as a grain of rice or grow to resemble pebbles and small rocks.
Passing a kidney stone can be painful. Sometimes they become stuck. A person who is first experiencing symptoms, or who notices bleeding when trying to pass a kidney stone, should see a doctor. Drinking plenty of water can help the stone to pass more quickly.
Prostatitis describes swelling and inflammation of the prostate, and it is often the result of an infection. People with prostatitis may notice changes in urination, including a fishy smell.
Symptoms of prostatitis are similar to those of a UTI. People with prostatitis may also experience:
Treatment depends on the cause of the inflammation. A doctor may prescribe medication, such as antibiotics and pain relievers, or they may recommend surgery. Warm sitz baths can help with managing the pain at home.
Like the kidneys, the liver helps the body to filter out toxins. When the liver is not functioning correctly, it releases more of a substance called bilirubin into the blood. This can pass into the urine, making it smell bad.
Symptoms of liver failure include:
Some people are more susceptible to liver failure than others. Anyone with one or more of the following conditions should contact a doctor immediately if they suspect that their liver is failing:
Treatment will depend on the extent of the liver failure, but it may include medication, hospitalization, or a liver transplant.
When to see a doctor
Fishy-smelling urine is not often a medical emergency. However, people who experience pain, a fever, or signs of kidney or liver problems should call a doctor or visit the emergency room.
When no other symptoms are present, the smell may disappear without treatment in a few days. If this does not happen, a person should consult a doctor.
It is easy to overlook urine as an indicator of health, but it can provide important information about how well the body is functioning.
While fishy-smelling urine may be alarming, the causes are usually minor. A doctor can provide a diagnosis and recommend the quickest path to recovery.
A fishy smell in the urine will often go away without treatment in a few days. If the smell does not improve, seek medical attention. Serious conditions can occasionally be responsible for this odor, and prompt treatment can be vital.
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