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What Your Urine Color Is Trying to Tell You

You know your urine color clues you in on how hydrated you are. Dark yellow? Chug some H2O. Pale yellow? You've hit that sweet spot. But let's say you notice an abnormal pee color as you sneak a quick glance at the toilet before you flush (no shame—we all do it). It could be nothing, but it could be something. The general advice, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, is to visit a doctor if that unusual pee color doesn't go away. Here, what might be going on. (And don't miss these six things your pee is trying to tell you.)

Pale Yellow

No worries here. If your urine is straw-colored and relatively transparent, you're healthy and doing everything right, according to the Clevand Clinic.

Dark Yellow

A darker color that borders on honey-hued indicates you're dehydrated, says Philip Buffington, M.D., a urologist with The Urology Group in Cincinnati, OH. (Plus, here are five signs you're dehydrated—besides the color of your pee.) You'll also notice this shade when you pee first thing in the morning. Why? As you slept, your brain released a hormone to concentrate your urine so you didn't have to get up to go to the bathroom throughout the night (genius, huh?). "What it does is make your kidneys pull the water out of the urine before it gets excreted," Dr. Buffington says. "So when you pee in the morning, your urine is typically very concentrated." It's usually nothing to worry about—although sometimes dark-colored urine is a sign that something's wrong with your liver. That'll be coupled with other symptoms, though, so pay attention to clues such as the whites of your eyes turning dark yellow, Dr. Buffington says.

Orange

Think back to your last meal. Was it filled with lots of carrots? According to the National Institutes of Health, carrots and other foods rich in carotene (a red-orange pigment abundant in many fruits and veggies) can give your urine an orange shade. Some medications may also be responsible for the coloring, including laxatives, UTI-treating phenazopyridine, the blood thinner warfarin, or the tuberculosis medication rifampin.

Milky

Dr. Buffington says patients sometimes report having cloudy or milky-looking urine. If it's accompanied by a foul odor, it's most likely the result of bacteria or fungus growing in the urinary tract and could be a urinary tract infection (UTI), which more than half of women get at some point. Milky pee also comes up often in diabetes patients as they're more prone to having fungal infections in their urinary tracts, Dr. Buffington says. The sugar in their urine gives bacteria ideal growing conditions, according to a study from Israeli researchers. The best treatment? Antibiotics.

Bright Yellow

Very yellow, almost highlighter-colored pee can usually be traced back to taking a B vitamin or a multivitamin, Dr. Buffington says. It's likely the body's response to ingesting a surplus of B2 (riboflavin). B2 is water soluble, which means the body can't store it, so any excess amounts exit through your urine and give it that lovely neon shade. (P.S. Here's why B vitamins are so important for energy.)

Red

As every beet lover knows, foods can affect the color of your pee (beets are just one of the healthy foods with a bizarre side effect). But if the redness doesn't go away within 24 hours or so, it's time to consider what else could be going on, since red urine is the most alarming shade, Dr. Buffington says. "The thing we worry about in people who have red urine is that something's bleeding in their urinary tract," he says. "We think of kidney stones, a kidney tumor, or a bladder tumor." Bladder tumors are often accompanied by no other symptoms, so red pee is the first sign that something's up. Don't let your mind go straight to a worst-case scenario, though. "The most common reason that a woman would have blood in her urine is a bladder infection," Dr. Buffington says. Yep—a UTI could be to blame again. As bacteria grows and irritates the lining of your bladder, you'll end up with three symptoms: feeling like you have to pee every 30 seconds, a burning sensation when you pee, and (ick!) blood in your urine. Usually, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic and that'll clear it up. But if you happen to pass blood out of the blue and you don't have any other symptoms, visit a urologist. "Don't ignore it—if you're passing blood in your urine, you want to get it checked out early," he says.

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