As with many things we do in our bathrooms—taking showers, plucking unwanted hairs, and the like—urinating isn’t exactly something people discuss with friends and family. And why would they? Urinating is something we rarely pay attention to—unless we have to.
The medical community has long been able to study patients’ health status, and possible diagnoses, through analysis of their urine, since it can provide crucial data about certain health issues. Urine primarily consists of water, but also contains concentrations of various waste products excreted by the kidneys. These include unwanted hormones, proteins, salt, potassium, creatinine, and both organic and inorganic compounds.
A normal, healthy color for urine is a pale-yellowish that we barely even notice. But a darker shade of urine could indicate problems.
While a pale-yellow shade indicates that our bodies are sufficiently hydrated, darker hues can mean that we’ve become dehydrated. The more you engage in strenuous activities or drink too little water, the more dehydrated you become and the darker your urine will be. If you begin to feel disoriented, dizzy, or lightheaded, these could be symptoms of severe dehydration. If you don’t get enough water into your body, it will create a waste product called urobilinogen that causes your urine to have a darkened color.
Another thing that can cause a build-up of urobilinogen in your system is when your liver isn’t functioning properly. Reasons for this include liver cancer, where your liver contains abnormal cell growth; hepatitis, an inflammatory disorder caused by a hepatitis viral affliction; and cirrhosis of the liver, in which a person’s normally healthy liver tissues are gradually replaced by scar tissues due to heavy, long-term alcohol abuse.
Foods can greatly influence the color of urine. Normally this doesn’t mean there are health issues, it simply means that someone ate a lot of a certain food. This kind of urine discoloration gradually fades over time.
For instance, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, eating lots of beets, blackberries, or rhubarb can give your urine a reddish tinge.
Medications are known to sometimes cause the darkening of urine—most typically muscle relaxants, laxatives (that contain senna for easier bowel movements), antibiotics, and antimalarial medications.
As a Mayo Clinic article points out, even a reddish-orange coloration of urine doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious health condition. It could be due to taking phenazopyridine, which helps with urinary tract pain and discomfort, or Rifampin, an antibiotic prescribed to patients with tuberculosis.
Although these are some of the more common causes of darkened urine, there are other potential causes that could be at play. These include more serious causes such as lead poisoning, bile duct obstructions, congestive heart failure, and so on.
When to Seek Professional Help
When in doubt, always contact your physician. If you ever experience any pain while urinating (especially back pain) and your urine comes out a dark color, it could indicate a urinary tract infection, kidney stones, kidney infection, or kidney cancer (according to a publication by the Cleveland Clinic).
You should also seek medical aid if you see blood in your urine. Make sure to take notes of your specific symptoms so you can relay them to a doctor later.
A urinalysis test will involve taking a urine sample—usually in the morning, since a person’s first urination will show abnormalities more effectively and is more concentrated than urine produced over the course of a day.
A medical facility’s laboratory will test the patient’s urine sample for factors that could indicate the presence of any underlying medical conditions. These tests analyze such things as bacteria, glucose, red and white blood cells, and proteins.
Doctors will ultimately prescribe treatments for patients based on their individual medical histories and the results of both physical examinations and urinalysis testing.