Admit it. When you go, you look into the bowl before you flush. That's not weird; it's smart. The color of your urine can tell a lot about your health. It can reveal if you're drinking enough water or maybe if you've been eating a lot of certain foods or taking specific medications. More important, it can indicate a urinary tract infection or may be an early warning sign of serious health problems.

The Cleveland Clinic says "human urine has been a useful tool of diagnosis since the earliest days of medicine. The color, density, and smell of urine can reveal much about the state of our health."

Want a handy reference? Check out the clinic's detailed rainbow infographic, showing various urine colors and what they might mean. In the meantime, here's a cheat sheet. And the next time you visit the loo, take a look before you flush.

No color

If your urine is as clear as water, that's probably a sign you might actually be over-hydrated. You may want to take it easy on the H20. It could also mean that you're taking a diuretic, says WebMD. That's a drug that forces your body to get rid of any extra water.

Pale straw to dark yellow

The lighter the shade of yellow, the more well-hydrated you are. As the color gets darker, you likely need to drink more water.

Amber or honey

If your pee is deep, golden yellow, your body isn't getting enough fluid. That means you need to drink some water.

Syrup or brown ale

Brown shades in your urine could just mean you're dehydrated. But it could also be a sign of liver or kidney problems. Do you eat a lot of rhubarb, aloe or fava beans? That could make your urine brownish too. Several drugs can also turn urine brownish including antimalarial drugs chloroquine and primaquine, antibiotics metronidazole and nitrofurantoin, laxatives containing cascara or senna, and the muscle relaxant methocarbamol. If drinking more water and diet changes don't help, see your doctor.

Pink to reddish

See your doctor. This is often a sign of blood, which can mean tumors, kidney disease, prostate problems, urinary tract infections, or kidney or bladder stones. It can also be a sign of lead or mercury poisoning. Of course, pinkish urine can mean something less sinister — like you've been eating beets, rhubarb or blackberries. Taking certain medications — like the antibiotic Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), and laxatives containing senna — can also tint urine red. But to be safe, get it checked out.


This could be dehydration, but it could also be caused by medications including certain laxatives and some chemotherapy drugs, as well as the common blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). Orange in the bowl can also mean a problem with your bile duct or liver. It could also be a food dye or something else you ate: Carrots, carrot juice and vitamin C can make urine look orange.

Blue or green

This could certainly send you into a panic. Blue- or green-hued urine could be the side effect of brightly colored food dyes or medications such as amitriptyline, indomethacin (Indocin) and cimetidine (Tagamet). Asparagus can give urine a slightly greenish tinge. But these hues could also indicate a rare medical condition. Blue urine could be a sign of the genetic disorder familial hypercalcemia — sometimes called blue diaper syndrome because children who have it have blue urine. Green urine sometimes accompanies certain urinary tract infections.

Other urinary changes

asparagus on a plateIf your pee smells especially strong or particularly ammonia-like, there's a chance you could have an infection. It could also just be the result of certain medicines or even foods. One common culprit is asparagus. Some people leave a very distinct smell in the bathroom after eating asparagus. It's due to the breakdown of a sulfur compound called methyl mercaptan.

If your urine foams or fizzes, that could be a sign of a kidney problem or too much protein in your diet. Check with your doctor.

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Asparagus photo: liz west/flickr

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.