Urine can tell a lot about what’s going on in your body. It can be all sorts of colors from pale yellow to dark amber and even green, pink or orange. Mark Newton, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains how different foods, medications and diseases can change urine color and what may be considered an abnormal color.
What Color Should Urine Be?
“A healthy urine color range is from pale yellow to amber-colored urine,” Dr. Newton says. “A lot depends on your hydration level. Pale yellow urine means you are more hydrated. Dark amber urine is at the other end of the spectrum, which means the urine is more concentrated, and therefore you’re more dehydrated.”
Dr. Newton says a pigment called urochrome, or urobilin, causes the yellow color in urine. Your kidneys filter out this byproduct from your bloodstream and it exits your body in urine. The more fluids you drink, the lighter the color of the pigment in your urine. The less you drink, the stronger the color.
“For example, urine looks paler during pregnancy because there’s a 50 percent increase in blood volume, so the urine tends to be clearer and more diluted during pregnancy,” Dr. Newton says.
Urine Color Chart
The color of urine often has to do with what you put in your mouth.
“While asparagus is the top-known food for causing the smell of urine to change, beets (red) and fava beans (brown) are, by far, the most well-known for changing the color of urine,” Dr. Newton says.
However, a change in urine color can also be a sign something isn’t quite right in your body.
- Brown Urine. The most common cause of brown urine is fava beans (broad beans), which are green legumes that come in pods. Antibiotics called metronidazole (used for bacterial vaginosis and other types of infections) and nitrofurantoin (used for treating and preventing urinary tract infection) can also cause brown urine. Senna, an over-the-counter laxative, can also cause a brown color.
- Light-Brown Urine. Light-brown or tea-colored urine can be a sign of kidney disease/failure or muscle breakdown. Extreme exercise, like long-distance running or exercising in extreme conditions, might cause a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which causes the release of a certain substance that makes urine seem light-brown or tea-colored.
- Orange Urine. Vitamin C and carotene in carrots can cause orange-colored urine, but not always. Rifampicin, an antibiotic used for tuberculosis, will almost always turn your urine orange. Phenazopyridine, which is used to treat symptoms of UTI, will also turn urine orange. The most concerning cause of orange urine is liver disease. In that case, the orange-color is caused by an increase in bilirubin.
- Red/Pink Urine. Certain foods like beets and berries can cause a red-colored urine. Blood can also turn urine red/pink. The less blood, the pinker urine will appear. More blood makes urine appear red. The most important question is to ask yourself is whether pain is associated with blood in your urine. If yes, then the color change could be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones. If there is no pain, it could be a sign of kidney or bladder cancer. It’s very important to call your physician if you notice red/pink urine and you aren’t experiencing any pain. A rare blood disease called polycythemia vera, can also cause red urine.
- Blue/Green Urine. Food coloring is the most common cause for blue or green urine. Vitamin B can also turn the urine green. Certain medications like amitriptyline (used for depression or pain), Propofol (sedation and anesthesia during surgery) or indomethacin (an Advil-like pain reliever) can also cause blue/green urine. A rare hospital infection from pseudomonas (a bacteria) can turn urine green, too.
- Cloudy. Perhaps you’ve noticed the color isn’t changing, but instead your urine appears cloudier. That could be caused by an infection, like a UTI.
How to Find the Urine-Changing Culprit
All the color-changing pigment should be washed out within one day. In that timeframe, drink plenty of water. If the strange color continues beyond the 24-hour timeframe, contact your doctor. Also, glance at your stool. Some of the color from foods like beets, can also be seen in the stool, as well as the urine.
“It all has to do with how the body excretes waste. Sometimes the pigment only shows up in the urine, sometimes it’s only in the stool. Then, sometimes, it shows in both. Although, color from vitamins and medications usually only show up in urine, and not stool,” Dr. Newton says.
Overall, the most important thing you should watch for is blood in your urine, which is caused by several medical conditions. If you notice a red or pink color, call your clinic or visit urgent care. Remember, any pain with a pink/red urine usually means an infection (like UTI) or stones. If there’s no pain associated with the blood, that might be more serious — as it’s a potential sign of cancer. Follow up with you care team to get it ruled out.