Well Health

What the Color of Your Pee Says About Your Health

March 12, 2018
New roll of toilet paper just started in white bathroom
© Rowena Naylor / Stocksy United
Quick Read

Urine color and your health

  • Your pee may not always be pale yellow. Sometimes that’s OK, sometimes it’s an issue.
  • Red, pink or brown urine is the most concerning.
  • If you have any concerns about the color of your urine, talk with your healthcare provider.

Unless you’re stuck in a car 100 miles from the nearest gas station when you feel the urge to pee, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about your urine. But just like paying attention to changes in the color and consistency of your poop can help you learn about your diet and your health, taking a peek in the bowl on your pee breaks can, too.

You might be surprised to learn that, aside from the basic yellow hue, pee can actually come in a rainbow of colors—some healthy, some not. Jonathan Harper, M.D., a urologist and UW Medicine's Chief of Endourology and Minimally Invasive Surgery, explains what the spectrum of pee color can mean—and when the color of your pee might signal a serious health problem.

If your pee is… Red or pink

Red or pink urine can be a sign of a mild or serious health issue. The big concern with any sort of pink or red urine is bleeding, called hematuria. This could signal an easy-to-treat urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stone—or something more serious, such as urinary tract cancer. If there is obvious blood in the urine, you should contact a healthcare provider.

Before you get too alarmed with any change of urine color, take note of what you’ve eaten. Beets and berries, especially blackberries, can stain your pee a light pink to crimson shade.

If your pee is… Orange

It’s probably a safe side effect of a medication you’re taking. Phenazopyridine, a drug used to relieve symptoms of urinary pain and discomfort, contains a dye that could leave you thinking you drank too much orange fruit punch. Rifampin, which is used to treat tuberculosis, can also have this startling side effect. Carrots have been known to do the same.

If your pee is… Pale yellow

Congrats, your pee is normal! Typically, if you’re well-hydrated, your urine will be a pale yellow hue. If it’s not on the pale side of yellow, it’s not something to be concerned about, it just means you might want to drink a little more water throughout the day. 

On the other hand, if you’re dehydrated, your urine will be more concentrated and will be a darker shade of yellow. That’s a sign that you might want to chug some H2O, especially if you are prone to kidney stones.

If your pee is… Bright yellow

Does your morning regimen include popping handfuls of vitamins and supplements? High-dose vitamins can turn your pee a bright, almost neon yellow color. The most common culprit is vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, which is found in most multivitamins. The neon color in pee is just a harmless sign that you’re taking more than your body needs, and the excess is mixing with your pee.

If your pee is… Green or blue

Pseudomonas, bacteria that can cause UTIs, can turn your urine a deep shade of bluish green. It’s pretty unusual, and most often happens in people with catheters, but it’s something to be aware of. 

Eating asparagus, which is known to make your pee smell weird, can also tint your pee light green.

If your pee is… Brown

If your pee is ever cola colored, call your healthcare provider ASAP. It could be a pigment from something you ate, but it could also be a side effect of liver disease. Rhabdomyolysis, which is a release of protein into the bloodstream that’s toxic to the kidneys, is a side effect of extreme exercise or trauma that can turn your pee brown, too. 

Brown-looking pee can also be from blood. Blood in the urinary tract may form a clot and turn the urine a very dark color if not peed out quickly. It takes a while for urine to travel from the kidneys, where it is produced, down to your bladder, and not everyone completely empties their bladder every time they pee. If this is the case, you may not have bleeding in your kidneys or bladder right now, but because you did at some point, you should have the issue addressed.

If your pee is… Foamy or cloudy

Maybe you’ve jumped on the ketogenic diet bandwagon or you just love steak. Either way, eating a very high-protein diet can occasionally result in protein in the urine and cause it to appear foamy. This can happen in people with kidney disease, too. In some cases, cloudy or milky-looking urine can also be a sign of infection.

If your pee is… Clear

You get a gold star for hydration, but you might actually be overdoing your water intake. People who get recurring kidney stones should aim to have urine that’s close to clear, but for everyone else, there’s no shame in the yellow pee game.

Do you get kidney stones?

Dr. Harper and UW Medicine are currently part of a large clinical trial, Prevention of Urinary Stones with Hydration (PUSH). The randomized controlled trial is using a smart water bottle and other behavioral interventions to improve hydration and adherence to drinking more fluids. To learn more about participating in the trial, contact Holly Covert.