Plus, when you should see a doctor.

By Maggie O'Neill
November 24, 2020
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Here's a good habit to get into: Taking a peek at what's in the toilet before you flush—even after going number one. Ultimately, while everyone's urine looks different, it should be on the yellow spectrum—ideally on the paler yellow side, and pretty translucent (that means your kidneys are working properly).

But what if your pee looks kind of cloudy, or a little more opaque than usual? Here's what to know about cloudy urine if you're experiencing it, and when you should talk to a doctor.

cloudy pee
Credit: Getty Images

1. Urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually responsible for cloudy pee, Ketan Badani, MD, a urologist at Mount Sinai in New York, tells Health. "Cloudy urine can be a few things, but the most common [is] urinary tract infection," Dr. Badani says. If you are suffering from a UTI, you might notice other symptoms such as burning or pain when you urinate, or needing to pee more frequently than normal. The good news is that your primary care doctor can diagnose a UTI after obtaining a urine sample, and these infections are usually cleared up with a round of antibiotics.

2. Dehydration

Not drinking enough water can also cause cloudy urine, Sandip Vasavada, MD, a urologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Health. Another clue that might help you realize you're simply not drinking enough water is the color of your urine: If you are dehydrated, your pee might be a little darker than it usually is. The good news, of course, is that you can solve this problem by prioritizing your water intake.

3. Diet

The same way that certain foods can affect the way your pee smells, your diet can cause your pee to look cloudy or milky, Dr. Vasavada says. In particular, certain vegetables can have this affect, though which vegetables, specifically, can cause your urine to be cloudy hasn't been well documented, Dr. Vasavada says.

4. Kidney stones

Kidney problems are important to rule out if you suddenly start noticing cloudy urine, Dr. Badani says. Smelly urine and cloudy urine are both signs of kidney stones, which, as the name suggests, form in the kidneys but are passed via urinating. Other symptoms of kidney stones include back pain or pain in your side, chills, fever, blood in the urine, burning when you urinate, and vomiting, per MedlinePlus, a resource from the US National Library of Medicine.

5. Chlamydia

If you notice your pee is looking cloudy and you haven't been practicing safe sex, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) could be to blame. Specifically, chlamydia can cause cloudy urine, according to Stanford Health Care, a resource from Stanford University School of Medicine. Aside from cloudy urine, chlamydia can also cause abnormal discharge, pain while urinating, genital itching, fever, and other symptoms.

6. Inflammation

Inflammation can cause your urine to look cloudy, Dr. Badani explains. Specifically, cystitis, which is the technical term for inflammation of the bladder, can cause your urine to look cloudy, per the National Health Service of the UK. Other symptoms of cystitis include dark or smelly urine, burning or pain when you pee, and having to pee more frequently than normal.

7. Mucus

If there's mucus in your urine, it could be making your pee look cloudy, according to MedlinePlus, which states that having some mucus in your urine is normal. However, excess amounts could point to an underlying health condition. Providing a urine sample can help your doctor determine if the amount of mucus in your urine is normal. If it isn't, it could be a sign of one of the aforementioned health conditions, including UTIs and kidney stones. But mucus in the urine can also be a sign of other conditions, including bladder cancer and irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), per MedlinePlus.

What should you do if you start noticing that your pee is cloudy?

Cloudy pee by itself isn’t necessarily worrisome, Dr. Vasavada explains. (Remember: It can be caused by dehydration.) However, if you start noticing other symptoms on top of cloudy urine—such as burning, going to the bathroom frequently, and pain—you might have a UTI, which, again, is the number one cause of cloudy urine. If you suspect you have a UTI, your primary care doctor can diagnose you after you provide a urine sample, and taking a round of antibiotics should knock it out.

However, if other, more serious symptoms arise, such as blood in your urine, you should probably ask to be referred to a specialist, since there’s always the risk that something other than a UTI is causing the cloudy urine.

The takeaway: Cloudy- or milky-looking urine isn’t always bad, nor do you need to rush to the ER if you notice it. But if you consistently see cloudy urine accompanied by other worrisome symptoms, it wouldn’t hurt to schedule a doctor’s appointment to confirm that you aren’t suffering from a UTI or something else. 

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