Smelly urine? The main causes and how to mitigate it

Urine often has a slight ammonia odor, especially when waking up in the morning or when a person is dehydrated. However, smelly urine can also be a sign of an infection. If the smell does not go away on its own or if other symptoms appear, see a doctor. In this article, we look at the causes of smelly urine and offer strategies to reduce the smell.

Common Problems That Cause Smelly Urine

Dehydration and certain medications can cause smelly urine. Smelly urine doesn’t always stem from a health problem. Dehydration, certain vitamins, and medications can cause urine to smell bad.

Common causes of smelly urine

concentrated urine

When urine is very concentrated, it contains more ammonia and less water. This can give it a strong odor. Urine tends to be more concentrated when a person is dehydrated. This is often the case in the morning or when a person does not drink enough water during the day.

Symptoms of severe dehydration are:

– dry mouth
– lethargy
– muscular weakness
– of head
– dizziness
If a symptom of dehydration does not go away after the person has drunk plenty of water, they should see a doctor. The underlying problem may be a kidney infection.


Metabolites are all substances that are formed during digestion. As the body excretes them in the urine, some can cause odor in the urine. When asparagus, for example, is broken down during digestion, its metabolites cause urine to smell foul.

Medicines and dietary supplements

Certain medications and supplements can cause a change in the smell of urine, including:

– high doses of B vitamins (thiamine and choline)
– certain antibiotics, especially a group called sulfonamides
– certain medicines for diabetes
– chemotherapy

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health problems

Some health conditions that lead to smelly urine require short-term treatment, while others require longer-lasting attention.

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when harmful bacteria grow in the urethra, bladder or kidneys. Most people have symptoms other than the smell of urine, including:

– pain when urinating
– a frequent and intense need to urinate
– difficulty emptying the bladder completely
– cloudy or dark urine
– blood in the urine
– fever, if the infection has spread
– back pain, if the infection has spread to the kidneys.

Infections with certain bacteria, including Aerococcus urinae, can cause very smelly urine, with or without other symptoms. A UTI usually clears up with antibiotics. If a person does not receive treatment, the infection can spread, so seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginal infection causes a distinct fishy smell which may worsen after sex. Other symptoms are:

– pains
– itching
– burning pain during urination
– fine, white or gray discharge


Diabetes medications can change the smell of urine, as can the disease, especially if blood sugar levels are not controlled. Some people notice a very sweet smell. It happens when there is too much sugar in the urine.

Other symptoms of diabetes are:

– going to the toilet frequently, especially at night
– intense thirst
– tired
– weight loss, in some cases
– genital itching
– slow healing of wounds
– blurred vision
– high blood pressure

Organ failure

When the organs involved in digestion or urination aren’t working properly, it can affect the smell of urine. According to a 2012 study, some people with kidney failure, for example, notice bad body odor or smelly urine. Another study from 2012 found that liver disease can alter the smell of urine.
Symptoms of organ failure vary depending on the area involved and the cause. Liver failure also tends to cause yellowing of the skin or eyes, while kidney failure can also cause pain during urination.

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Can asparagus make urine smell?

Some people find that asparagus gives their urine a strong, foul smell that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Some people may not be able to detect the smell. Research from 2016 suggests that about 60% of people have one of several genetic variants that decrease their ability to smell asparagus in urine or eliminate it entirely.

Can pregnancy cause urine odor?

Some people notice a change in the smell of their urine during pregnancy. The various hormonal changes involved can alter the smell of urine or the person’s sensitivity to smells. Many people report a stronger sense of smell during pregnancy, although very little research has looked into this phenomenon. It should be noted that pregnant women with UTIs may not experience more pronounced symptoms, a change in the smell of urine may be the only warning.
Prompt treatment of UTIs decreases the risk of serious complications for the person and their baby.

Strategies to reduce odor

The following tips can help you:

– Avoid eating foods that cause urine odor, especially asparagus.
– Change dietary supplement, if high levels of thiamin or choline are likely to be the cause of the problem.
– Drink plenty of water to promote hydration and kidney and urinary tract health.
– Go to the bathroom whenever you feel like it.
– Manage any chronic illness, such as diabetes, as carefully as possible, with the advice of a doctor.
Also, an overall healthy lifestyle and reducing or eliminating alcohol intake can protect the liver and help get rid of the odor.

Diagnosis of the cause of smelly urine

The doctor will ask you about certain lifestyle factors, recent health changes, and when the bad smell started. He may perform a urine culture to check for bacteria and other signs of infection. When diet is responsible for the odor, the doctor may be able to diagnose the problem based on symptoms alone. In some cases, the doctor may order imaging tests of the urinary tract or kidneys. A person may also need blood tests to check for other health conditions.

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When to consult a doctor

Bad urine odor often goes away on its own, especially if it’s due to dehydration or something in the diet. A person does not need to see a doctor if they can identify a harmless cause of their smelly urine, such as asparagus. Other causes require medical treatment. Although a UTI is relatively harmless, it can progress and cause serious health problems, including kidney infections. With early treatment, a person should feel better within days.
As some people with UTIs have no symptoms, see a doctor if the bad smell lasts for more than a few days. This is especially important for pregnant women.

Other health conditions that can cause this odor require ongoing treatment. For example, a person with diabetes may need to change their medication or change their lifestyle. If a person with a chronic condition notices that the smell of their urine changes significantly, it may be a good idea to bring this to the attention of a doctor.

* The information and services available on in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. []

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