Why Is My Pee Cloudy? Surprising Reasons for Cloudy Urine, According to Doctors
Madeleine Haase – November 30, 2022
If you see something that looks off in your toilet bowl after urinating, don’t be too quick to flush away your worries (and the contents). While cloudy urine isn’t always cause for concern, it’s important to pay attention to what’s in your toilet bowl—there is a chance something more serious is at play.
When you think of normal, healthy urine, it’s typically transparent, no matter the color. Cloudy urine, on the other hand, can appear white, flaky, and greenish. But it’s mostly described as murky—as in you can’t see through it, says S. Adam Ramin, M.D., urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.
So if you’re asking yourself, why is my pee cloudy? Read on to find out what the reason might be behind your cloudy urine and how to treat it.
Causes of Cloudy Urine
When you’re putting less water into your body than what’s leaving it, you can become dehydrated which can lead to less-diluted, cloudy urine. People can usually correct early dehydration simply with more water consumption.
Other symptoms of dehydration may include:
- Dry mouth
- Decrease in urination
- Dry skin
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle cramping
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), also known as bladder infections, can also cause cloudy urine, says Dr. Ramin. Urinary tract infections are one of the most common causes of cloudy urine. The cloudy look of the urine typically comes from a discharge of either pus or blood into the urinary tract. It could also be a buildup of white blood cells that indicates the body is trying to eliminate invading bacteria.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, females are more likely than males to get UTIs. In fact, around 50–60% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime.
Other common UTI symptoms include:
- Pain, burning, or stinging when you pee
- A strong urge to pee all the time, but peeing doesn’t bring relief
- Cloudy, bloody, or discolored urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pressure, cramping, or pain around your bladder/pelvis
- Extreme fatigue
In men who have prostate infections, the prostate can start making secretions that could be milky, white milky fluid, says Dr. Ramin. “So sometimes with prostate infections, men can have a cloudy appearance to their urine.”
Another kind of infection that can result in cloudy urine is vaginitis, or an inflammation of the vagina that can result in discharge, itching, and pain. The most common types of vaginitis include bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and trichomoniasis. Bacterial vaginosis results from an overgrowth of the bacteria naturally found in your vagina, which upsets the natural balance. Yeast infections are usually caused by a naturally occurring fungus. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite and is often sexually transmitted.
Other important vaginitis signs and symptoms can include:
- Change in color, odor or amount of discharge from your vagina
- Vaginal itching or irritation
- Pain during sex
- Painful urination
- Light vaginal bleeding or spotting
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Some common sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia may cause cloudy urine.These diseases prompt the immune system to produce white blood cells that, when mixed with urine, give it a cloudy appearance.
Possible symptoms of STIs other than cloudy urine include:
- Genital itching
- Genital pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain during ejaculation
- Pain during urination
- Sores on genitals
- Foul-smelling discharge from genitals
The best way to prevent the spread of STIs is to use protection during sexual activity. Regular testing for STIs can help people receive an early diagnosis and treatment.
UTIs can lead to a kidney infection, a serious type of infection in the kidneys. An untreated kidney infection can lead to permanent kidney damage. It is rare for kidney infections to cause cloudy urine, but it still happens, says Dr. Ramin.
Symptoms of a kidney infection may or may not include those of a UTI and may also include:
- Pain in your back, side, or groin
- Cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul-smelling pee
- Frequent, painful urination
People should see their doctor as soon as possible if they are experiencing these symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment. Early treatment of a UTI can help relieve discomfort and prevent complications.
Kidney stones can also cause a cloudy appearance to the urine, says Dr. Ramin. Small stones may pass without incident, but larger stones can block the urinary tract and cause a UTI. The most common symptom of passing kidney stones is severe pain below the ribs, generally near one side or the lower back. The pain may radiate to the lower abdomen or groin.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain during urination
- Bloody, or dark-tinged urine
- Foul-smelling urine
Some kidney stones do not require treatment and will pass on to the urinary tract independently.
Some patients who have cloudy urine may have higher levels of protein in their urine, a condition known as proteinuria, says Dr. Ramin. Causes may include relatively harmless symptoms, including dehydration or intense exercise, or more serious, including kidney disease or immune disorders. Patients with proteinuria “typically have some kind of kidney failure, diabetes out of control, or high blood pressure out of control, that causes protein to spill into the urine,” explains Dr. Ramin.
Certain kinds of food
This is a more rare scenario, but some foods can be responsible for your cloudy urine. Beets, in particular, can make urine look cloudy pink or red, says Dr. Ramin.
According to Dr. Ramin, cloudy urine can also be a result from certain chemotherapies and antibiotics.
How to treat cloudy urine
Cloudy urine is only a symptom, not a disease, says Dr. Ramin. “So once a person has cloudy urine, we have to determine what the source of the cloudy urine is.”
This typically means that a urologist will do a urinalysis with a urine culture, a test to check for bacteria or other germs in a urine sample. “If the culture grows bacteria, then we will prescribe antibiotics that are targeted towards the specific bacteria grown in urine,” says Dr. Ramin.
Sometimes we find there is no infection, says Dr. Ramin. “In which case, a urinalysis can let us know if there is protein in the urine…If we find a high concentration of protein in the urine, then we have to work up and find out why.” As stated before, these patients typically have some kind of kidney failure, or prolonged high blood sugar or high blood pressure, that causes protein to spill into the urine.
Aside from a urine culture and urinalysis, there are other tests that might be done to diagnose the reason behind your cloudy urine. Those tests may include a pelvic ultrasound, a prostate ultrasound, or a kidney ultrasound, says Dr. Ramin. He adds that “sometimes we may need to do a CT to get better imagery and understand the situation better.” Moreover, he notes that sometimes urologists also perform cystoscopies to physically look inside the urethra, the prostate, and the bladder to determine the source of the problem.
How to prevent cloudy urine
The best way to prevent cloudy urine is to stay hydrated, says Dr. Ramin. “Drink a lot of fluids, including water and electrolytes.”
However, if a person is having cloudy urine for a long time, “it’s very important that they see a medical professional to make sure it’s not a sign of something more serious,” he warns.
When to see a doctor
If your cloudy urine was a one-time occurrence and it has cleared up on its own, and if you are not experiencing any other symptoms, then you are most likely fine and seeing a medical professional is not necessary, says Dr. Ramin.
However, “if it’s a continued process, that each time you urinate you are seeing cloudy urine over a day or two, it’s important for you to go see a doctor,” says Dr. Ramin. In addition to that, he notes that “if you’re having other symptoms such as burning with urination, urgency with urination, frequent urination, pain in the pelvic area, fevers, and/or blood in the urine, those are all signs that they should immediately seek medical attention.”