Changes in urine odour is a common source of anxiety because of its possible indication of medical conditions. It is important to know when urine odour is normal and what variations can mean. Although a variation is usually no cause for concern, in some cases consulting a doctor is recommended.
Urine shouldn't have an odour in an otherwise healthy person who is well-hydrated from drinking plenty of water. However, some variation does exist for normal urine odour. But even within that variation, it usually does not have a strong smell. Normal urine is also straw-yellow in colour. A detectable urine odour indicates different conditions, depending on the characteristics of the odour and accompanying signs.
What it indicates
A strong ammonia smell to urine often indicates simple dehydration. When you do not replace the fluids lost by sweating during exercise, urine becomes concentrated. Whereas normal urine is straw-coloured, concentrated urine has a dark yellow colour. Solve the problem by drinking more water and prevent it by adequately hydrating during exercise. Other strong urine smells are caused by certain foods, especially asparagus, or by medications or vitamins. These changes in odour are temporary.
Causes for concern
In uncontrolled diabetes, urine has a sweet odour. Musty-smelling urine could indicate thyroid disease. Sweet-smelling or musty-smelling urine can also indicate metabolic disorders. A burnt caramel smell to urine is caused by an inherited maple syrup urine disease that is rare and life-threatening.
Besides dehydration, strong ammonia smell to the urine can also indicate bacterial infection, which is more common in women than men. However, urinary tract infection in men can indicate an underlying medical problem. With a urinary tract infection, the urine is foul-smelling and can also appear cloudy or bloody. If you suspect that you have a urinary tract infection, consult your doctor, who can do a lab test for infection with a urine sample.
A common cause of vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis, causes a fishy smell to emanate from the vagina that can be mistaken for a strong urine odour. However, accompanying symptoms such as vaginal itching and burning should inform you of whether you have a vaginal infection.
While normal urine odour varies somewhat and strong-smelling urine can be temporary and be caused by food, medication or dehydration, consult your doctor if you have any questions or worries, especially if the change in your urine odour corresponds to a symptom of a medical condition.