Nobody likes a bathroom surprise—like going pee only to discover that you’ve produced some totally out-of-the-norm smell. Before you hit up WebMD, though, take a deep breath. The most common causes of smelly urine are totally harmless and easily fixed. (That said, a few are more concerning.) Read on to find out what your tinkle is trying to tell you.
1. You’re Dehydrated
The number-one cause of pungent pee? Not drinking enough water. “When your body is dehydrated, the urine has a strong odor and appears dark in color,” says Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. It’s your body’s way of telling you to rehydrate, stat. But you don’t have to wait until your toilet turns mellow yellow to get in some extra H2O. Be proactive and keep a water bottle nearby, drinking as often as you feel like, says Ross.
2. You Ate Something Weird
If you’re part of the 40 percent of the population that can smell “asparagus pee,” according to the British Medical Journal, the likely culprit is, well, asparagus. But the green stalks aren’t the only food that can change the scent of your urine, says Ross. “Certain foods like Brussels sprouts, onions, some spices, garlic, curry, salmon, alcohol, and even coffee can change the smell,” she explains. A high-salt diet can also make your urine more concentrated, giving it a stronger scent than what you may be used to.
3. You Have a Urinary Tract Infection
The most common medically-concerning reason for smelly pee in women is a urinary tract infection, according to Ross. In fact, pee that has a strong ammonia smell, or a foul or slightly-sweet scent is often the first indication that you have a UTI. The bacteria causing the infection produce the odor, in addition to making your urine appear cloudy or bloody and giving you that telltale gotta-pee-but-nothing-is-coming out burning sensation, according to the Office on Women’s Health. (Fun, right?) If you suspect a UTI, talk to your doctor immediately so you can get started on an antibiotic.
4. Diabetes Is Lurking
Eat a few too many treats and you’ll likely have a sugar headache, but constant sugar overload can lead to high blood sugar or even Type 2 diabetes. And one of the first ways diabetes manifests is in the bathroom, causing you to have to urinate more frequently, says Muhammad Shamim Khan, M.D., a urologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Your pee may have a “fruity” smell thanks to the extra sugar being excreted by your kidneys, too. So if you find yourself running to the potty more than usual, you may want to get your blood sugar levels checked, says Khan.
5. You’re Still Freaking Douching
If you’re taking part in this ancient act, we’ve got four words for you: Stop. It. Right. Now. Not only does douching not clean your vagina, but it can also mess up the microbiome of your entire genital area, worsening bad smells rather than improving them, says Ross. Plus, the active-cleaning ingredients used in most douches can upset the healthy pH balance of your lady parts, causing a stinky imbalance or infection, and it could double your risk of ovarian cancer. If you’re worried about the odor of your vagina, see a doctor immediately to pinpoint the real cause instead of trying to mask it with douching.
6. There’s a Yeast Infection Brewing
Itchy yeast infections come with a distinctive “yeasty” smell, thanks to an imbalance of vaginal bacteria, says Ross. And while yeast infections are in your vagina, because your urethra is so close, your urine can pick up the scent as well.
7. You’ve Got a Genetic Disorder You Don’t Know About
Certain genetic disorders are associated with the scent of your urine. If your pee smells “foul,” “sour,” or “fishy,” you might have a condition called trimethylaminuria, which gives you terrible body odor no matter how much you brush your teeth, shower, or bathe. According to Genome.gov, it’s more common in women, and symptoms can worsen or become more noticeable around puberty, before or during your period, after taking oral contraceptives, or around menopause.
8. You’re Ovulating
The same hormones that gestate a baby (estrogen and progesterone) are also at work during your regular cycle, albeit on a smaller scale. Which means that you may be more aware of the scent of your own pee once you’re ovulating.
While the hormones aren’t necessarily changing the odor of your urine itself, they are amping up your ability to smell it, making the ammonia scent more noticeable to your super-sensitive sniffer, according to a study published in Biological Psychology.
9. Or You’re Pregnant
Here’s a fun fact: The hormone changes that make it possible to grow a baby also make you have to go every five minutes—and all that pee can come with a new scent. “Urine can have a more pungent smell from the hormones produced during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester,” says Ross.
10. You May Have an STD
As if sexually transmitted diseases weren’t enough of a bag full of fun, some of them can also cause foul-smelling urine, says Ross. Chlamydia is the most common culprit, followed by trichomoniasis, a sexually-transmitted parasite. If you even suspect you have one of these diseases, Ross says to get screened immediately. Both often show no or very mild symptoms at their onset—wait too long and smelly pee will be the least of your problems.
11. Your Supplements Are Causing Side Effects
Some supplements, vitamins, and medications can cause changes in your urine smell, says Ross. Artificial flavors are put in some pill coatings to make them more palatable, but they can also change the scent of your urine. So if you’ve recently started taking a new medication or vitamin and it correlates to when your pee started to change, it may be a side effect of the drug. The most likely offenders? Pills high in vitamin B6, including some multi-vitamins, heart, and pregnancy medications. It’s not particularly worrisome, says Ross, but be sure to mention it if you’re concerned about it, if it changes suddenly, or if you experience other negative side effects to go along with the smell.