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Urine Odor

Strong or Unusual Smelling Urine

Urine naturally has an odor, but it is usually not very strong smelling. Strong smelling urine is usually not a cause for concern. Sometimes, however, strong or unusual smelling urine is a sign of an underlying medical problem.

Diet and Urine Odor

Certain foods may make your urine smell strong.

One food that many people say makes their urine smell strong is asparagus. Some, however, say that asparagus does not change the way their urine smells. John H. McDonald, MS, PhD, of the University of Delaware says that it is possible that your genetics determine if asparagus makes your urine smell strong. McDonald says another possibility is that everyone’s urine smells strong after eating asparagus, but only some people with certain genetic makeups can detect the change in odor (McDonald, 2011).

Other foods that may change the odor of your urine include onions, garlic, and coffee.

If you suspect food is to blame, eliminating the food source should allow your urine to return to a normal smell in less than 12 hours. If you eliminate the food and the odor remains, there is likely another cause.

Underlying Medical Causes of Urine Odor

Several conditions can cause strong or unusual urine odor. The most common causes include:


Dehydration occurs when you do not drink enough fluids. If you are dehydrated, you may notice that your urine is a dark yellow or orange color and smells like ammonia. Most people only experience minor dehydration and do not require medical treatment. Drinking more fluids, especially water, will generally cause urine odor to return to normal. If you are experiencing mental confusion, weakness, extreme fatigue, or other unusual symptoms, you may have severe dehydration and should get medical treatment right away.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections—often called UTIs—commonly cause urine to smell strong. A strong urge to urinate and a burning sensation upon urination are the most common symptoms of a UTI. Bacteria in your urine cause urinary tract infections. If your doctor determines you have a UTI, he or she will give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria.


A common symptom of diabetes is sweet-smelling urine. People with untreated diabetes have high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels cause the sweet urine odor. See your doctor as soon as possible if your urine frequently smells sweet. Untreated diabetes is dangerous and can be life threatening.

Less common causes of urine odor include:

Bladder Fistula

A bladder fistula occurs when you have an injury or defect that allows bacteria from your intestines to enter your bladder. Bladder fistulas can occur due to surgical injuries or bowel diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease.

Liver Disease

A strong urine odor can be a sign of liver disease. Other symptoms of liver disease include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, yellow skin or eyes, weakness, bloating, and weight loss. See your doctor right away if you have symptoms of liver disease. Untreated liver disease can be life threatening.

Rare causes of abnormal urine odor include:


Phenylketonuria is an incurable genetic disease that is present at birth. The disease makes you unable to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. Other symptoms include:

  • decreased skin pigmentation
  • a large head
  • mental defects
  • slow-developing social skills

If this disease is not treated early, it can lead to ADHD and severe mental handicaps.

Maple Sugar Urine Disease

Maple sugar urine disease is a rare and incurable genetic disease that causes urine to smell like maple syrup. People with the disease cannot break down the amino acids eucine, isoleucine, and valine. Lack of treatment can lead to neurological (brain) damage and death.

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have a strong or abnormal urine odor that lasts for more than two days or if you have additional, unusual symptoms. If you have severe symptoms such as sweet-smelling urine, mental confusion, bloating, nausea, or vomiting, see a medical professional right away. These symptoms may be signs of diabetes, severe dehydration, or liver disease.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rose Kivi and Diana Wellson: Jan 26, 2017

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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