What Your Urine Says About You and Your Health

Medications, foods, and certain health conditions can all change the color of your urine. This chart can help you determine what your pee color really means.

Although your first instinct may be to flush ASAP, it’s worth taking a peek into your toilet bowl sometimes. You’ve probably heard that the color of your pee can cue you into your hydration levels. But urine can actually reveal a lot of other information about your health, experts say. “Urine color can vary on a daily basis,” says Kristian Novakovic, MD, a urologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago. “Generally, it is not a cause for alarm, [but] it is never wrong to consult your physician if you are concerned.”

What color should urine be?

While there isn’t one exact “normal” urine color, your pee should fall somewhere on the yellow spectrum, says Michael Palese, MD, site chair in the department of urology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. He explains that as a general rule, the more water you drink, the more transparent your urine will look. “If urine is paler or whiter, it means the water that’s being filtered through your kidneys is more diluted,” he says. “If it doesn’t, that could be an indication that something else is going on.”

So, if you’ve been guzzling lots of H2O lately, your pee might be completely clear, while pale straw or transparent yellow urine can also indicate that you’re well-hydrated. It’s rare to drink too much water, but you can probably safely cut back a bit if your urine is totally transparent.

Dark-colored yellow urine

Urine that is amber- or honey-colored, or even a dark orange, might indicate that your body isn’t getting enough water. “If you’re dehydrated and you are holding onto more of the actual water itself, the urine will become darker and darker,” says Dr. Palese.

In addition to darker urine, other signs of dehydration can include fatigue, chills, bad breath, sugar cravings, or muscle cramps. First, try upping your water intake (Dr. Novakovic recommends 1.5 to 2 liters of water daily in addition to other fluids). If that doesn’t help, schedule an appointment with your doc to rule out other issues.

Some medications can give your urine a darker yellow or orange hue, including phenazopyridine, which is often prescribed to treat urinary tract infection (UTI) pain, and sulfasalazine used to treat ulcerative colitis.

Dark brown urine

Does your urine resemble tea, brown ale, or Coca-Cola? Certain foods, including rhubarb, fava beans, and aloe, could be to blame. Dark brown urine might also represent a step beyond dark yellow or orange urine—a sign that you’re severely dehydrated.

If you’ve recently undergone a urologic procedure, the brown you’re seeing may actually be the result of blood slowly dissolving in the urine, says Dr. Novakovic. He adds that some antibiotics (such as metronidazole and nitrofurantoin), laxatives (cascara or senna), and medications (methocarbamol and methyldopa) can also cause urine to appear brown.

Dark brown urine could be an indication of something more serious, though. One possible concern is your liver. “If someone has a poor liver function, that can manifest itself in dark yellow or brown urine,” says Dr. Palese. Those with a history of melanoma should also keep an eye out for this shade: “If [melanoma patients’] urine turns brown, it may indicate the presence of melanin, which is associated with progression of cancer,” explains Dr. Novakovic.

If you’re noticing dark brown urine regularly, schedule an appointment with your doctor, says Dr. Palese. “In general, it doesn’t mean that something is absolutely wrong, but it can be.”

Red or pink urine

Have you been eating more blueberries, beets, or rhubarb lately? These foods can change the color of your urine (your stool, too) and give it a pink or reddish tint. Medications could be to blame, too, such as phenazopyridine or the antibiotic rifampin.

Make an appointment with your doctor to rule out a UTI, kidney stones, or other condition. “Blood in urine should always be worked up, and definitely [requires] seeing a physician,” says Dr. Palese. He recommends anyone with a medical condition affecting the urinary tract (such as recurrent UTIs or a history of kidney stones) closely monitor their urine for the presence of blood.

Blue or green urine

Don’t panic: The scariest-looking urine color probably has a totally innocuous explanation. A dye in something you ate or certain medications (antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes to blame) can cause your pee to appear blue or green. “It’s usual medications,” says Dr. Palese. “It’s unlikely that [blue urine] is anything more than that.”

Rarely, blue or green urine can be a sign of familial hypercalcemia, also known as blue diaper syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

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