Six important things your urine can indicate about your health
The simplest test of your health? A quick trip to the bathroom, says Cora Lydon
Your urine can tell you an awful lot about the state of your health - and you don't need a degree in medicine to decipher it. Whether it's the colour, the smell or the frequency a trip to the loo can reveal an awful lot. Here's what you need to know about when you go…
* Peeing more often - Needing to go more often is not just irritating - it could be a sign that something is seriously wrong. One of the symptoms of diabetes is excessive urination and according to Dr. Anna Clarke, health promotion and research manager at Diabetes Ireland, "there are a number of people walking around with blood glucose levels high enough to damage blood vessels but not to cause any symptoms at all."
Frequent trips to the bathroom shouldn't be ignored. "If you notice changes in your toilet habits such as getting up at night or having to pass urine more frequently during the day you must talk to a healthcare professional to determine your glucose levels," she explains. "If you're passing copious amounts of urine, and especially if you notice it is sticky, it requires urgent attention with a blood glucose check. This could indicate Type 1 diabetes and often its onset is rapid." Dr Clarke also advises parents to keep an eye on their children's toilet habits as it is often the parent who will notice a change.
If diabetes is not the cause, have you started a health kick and are drinking more, or consuming extra fruit and vegetables with a diuretic effect? Celery, cranberries, watermelon, cabbage and grapes could all be behind those extra toilet breaks.
* Getting up at night - If you drink large quantities close to bedtime then don't be surprised if your sleep is disturbed. Sarah Keogh, dietician and founder of eatwell.ie recommends reducing what you drink in the two hours before bed to minimise the risk of a night-time trip to the loo. She cautions too, that many people will wee more frequently if they've been out for a drink, as the alcohol acts as a diuretic.
Less obvious is to take a look at the amount of salt in your diet. "It's still early days for the research but some studies are finding that reducing your salt intake can minimise the likelihood of needing a wee at night," says Keogh. "Generally our bodies like to keep a careful control on salt levels and it does this through urination, so cutting back on salt could help cut back on the need to pass urine at night."
* Strange smells - Although it can be alarming, odd odours after a trip to the bathroom are often nothing to be concerned about. The most common culprit is eating asparagus, as Keogh explains: "Asparagus contains mercaptan which can leave a less than pleasant odour in your urine if your body doesn't break it down well. There's nothing you can do to prevent it other than avoid the food, but it is harmless and nothing to worry about." Garlic, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips and cabbage also contain the same chemical.
However, you should consult your doctor if the smell is persistent and you've not eaten any of the above, or if your urine smells particularly sweet, as these can be a sign of other medical conditions, such as a bacterial infection or diabetes.
* Going little but often - After a desperate run to the toilet you might then find you have little more than a dribble - and you find yourself running back a half hour later. According to Ms Dilly Little, consultant urologist and kidney transplant surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, this symptom could fit a number of conditions so expert help may be needed to assess the whole clinical scenario if it persists: "If this is associated with a burning pain when going to the toilet it may be an infection of the urinary tract, while older females could experience this issue post menopause. In older men it may be linked to prostate issues."
The key thing Dilly stresses is that if symptoms persist, or others occur you must seek medical advice: "Going little but often is a fairly innocuous symptom of itself but if you also develop a high temperature or fever, chills, flu-like symptoms or flank pain it could be a serious infection of the kidney or something more serious and you should get urgent medical attention."
To reduce your risk of developing a urinary tract infection wear cotton underwear and change feminine hygiene often, as they can reduce the protective bacteria. If you do suffer a UTI drink plenty of water to flush out bad bacteria, avoid coffee and alcohol, which can irritate the bladder and see your doctor for a course of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is present.
* Pink urine - Before you panic, cast your mind back to what you've been eating, advises Keogh. "Eating large amounts of rhubarb, beetroot and even blackberries can stain your urine a light shade of pink or red as these foods contain a pigment that colours the food. But you'd need to eat a lot of the food in question in order to see it in your urine."
If you've not eaten any of the likely culprits then it may be blood and this must be investigated by your GP, warns Little. "Visible blood in the urine must always be investigated. It may be harmless - for example exercising vigorously can cause bleeding - or if you also have severe pain it may be kidney stones. More seriously it may indicate underlying cancer, and often you'll experience no pain with this."
Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) may also cause blood in your urine, so if you also have flank pain, chills and a temperature seek medical help.
* Yellow or orange-tinged urine - You could, quite literally, be pouring money down the drain, as a yellow or orange tinge usually comes from your vitamin tablets. "Vitamin B2 in particular can cause stronger, bright yellow urine in high doses," explains Keogh. "It's a water soluble vitamin so this is your body's way of getting rid of any excess, so if you do notice this then it's worth reducing your dose." When taking any supplements you should always follow the pack guidelines.
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