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What is Your Pee Telling You About Your Health?

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By Rachel Welch 

Let’s dive into a topic you probably have learned not to discuss socially. Maybe you were taught it was faux pax, rude, or crude or that only children of a certain maturity level found it interesting. Whichever way you were spoken to (or not spoken to) about it, something that we all experience multiple times a day is pee or urine.

It may be weird to say, but your pee could be talking to you… figuratively speaking. This might seem an attempt at humor, but it really can provide consistent and key insight into your health and can be an early warning sign for certain health issues.

So, take your bathroom break now, and get ready to explore the scientific and health-based wonders of your pee.  

History of Urinalysis 

First, we will take a brief step back in time – way back. Around 6,000 years ago, urine analysis was introduced in a laboratory setting. What is now known as urinalysis was at that time called uroscopy. 

People throughout history have observed the color, odor, and scientific analysis of urine, what doctors of the 17th century deemed a “divine fluid” and a “window to the body.” Even further back than that, we have records of physicians in Egypt and Babylon who began the scientific inspection of urine.

Unsurprisingly, current records reflect the ever-famous Hippocrates as one of the earliest to practice uroscopy. He and his colleagues kept records on clay tablets and used the image of water and a phallic design as a symbol for their object of study.  

Soon enough, urinalysis became fundamental in diagnosing ailments and diseases through the brave experiments of original doctors. Some medical records from 100 BC in Sanskrit tell us that Hindu cultures discovered diabetes could be detected in the urine because it would develop a sweet taste. (As I said – brave experiments).

Eventually, urine joined the list of the four humors, which, if you’re not familiar, included blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The key to health, via the four senses of humor, was to keep all of them in perfect balance to ensure optimal health.

Urine also became a tell-tale sign of kidney disease, urinary tract infections, fevers, cancer, and many other ailments. Supposedly, they could even tell how often someone exercised based on their pee. When assessing a patient’s urine sample, they would focus on the odor, volume, color, and turbidity (amount of sediment) in the urine. Flash forward through the middle ages and the Renaissance, and we see our current-day doctors abiding by many of these original diagnoses based on a person’s urine.  

Modern Medicine’s Take 

Current-day medicine hasn’t deviated drastically from the urinalysis practices of Hippocrates and friends. Urine, an often-overlooked aspect of our body's functions, still holds significant value in understanding our overall health and well-being.

It is an important byproduct of your body’s waste removal system, generated by the kidneys. These organs tirelessly filter your blood, removing waste products and excess waste. 

As urine is produced, it embarks on a fascinating Miss Frizzle-worthy journey through our bodies. It traverses the narrow, efficient pathways known as the ureters, which gently guide it from the kidneys to the bladder.

The bladder acts as a temporary reservoir, patiently storing the liquid until we consciously release it through the urethra during the natural process of urination. Urine is composed of electrolytes, water, and waste that your body brilliantly filters out. Because of this, it is perfectly normal for your pee to change appearance from day to day, as your body’s waste is also likely to change.   

What makes urine a remarkable diagnostic tool is its ability to provide invaluable insights into our health. Healthcare professionals today cling to the diagnostic potential of urine analysis.

By carefully examining its physical, chemical, and microscopic properties, we can uncover valuable clues about our kidney function, hydration levels, metabolic health, urinary tract infections, and even signs of liver disease or other systemic issues.

It serves as a non-invasive window into our inner workings, helping us identify potential concerns and take proactive measures to maintain our well-being.  

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Common Tests 

A present-day urinalysis is a common diagnostic test that involves examining a urine sample to assess various aspects of a person's health. Some factors that a doctor might evaluate include: 

Urine Color and Appearance: 

A doctor will evaluate the urine based on its appearance and will look for variations in color, etc., as mentioned above. This is often a first indicator of whether further testing is needed.  

Urine Chemical Findings: 

  • Special test strips called dipsticks are used to examine the chemical composition of urine. 
  • Different pads on the dipstick change color when they come in contact with specific substances. 
  • Common tests include protein, pH level, ketones, glucose, bilirubin, nitrite, leukocyte esterase, and urine-specific gravity. 

Urine Microscopic Findings: 

  • A urine sample may be examined under a microscope to identify tiny substances. 
  • Microscopic tests can detect red and white blood cells, epithelial cells, bacteria, yeast, parasites, casts, and crystals. Doctors can diagnose potential infections, diseases, or medical conditions from there.  
  • Abnormal levels of these substances may indicate various health conditions such as infections, inflammation, kidney issues, or urinary tract problems. 

The reasons a healthcare provider might suggest conducting a urinalysis include routine medical exams, monitoring existing health conditions, diagnosing urinary tract infections, and pre-surgical assessments. Urinalysis is a valuable tool that provides insights into a person's overall health status, as it has done for centuries.  

You can also monitor your urine to establish what is normal for your body and what may have caused any deviations or differences. 

Please note: this is not intended to replace medical advice or create cause for concern. Always seek guidance from your healthcare provider as needed.  

Urine Color Chart 

Here is a list of different urine colors, textures, and their potential meanings. It's important to note that this list provides general information, but individual variations can exist, and you should always seek professional medical advice if you are concerned.  

Clear/Transparent: While you may think that this is a sign of ample hydration, completely clear/transparent urine can actually indicate that you are drinking too much water. While hydration is important, overhydrating (as this color would show) can lead to flushing your system of its nutrients, not to mention intrusions into your day’s schedule with frequent bathroom breaks. If this happens occasionally, don’t worry. If you notice that your urine is often clear, you may need to cut back slightly on your water intake.  

Pale Yellow: This is the color to aim for! Pale yellow is a normal and healthy urine color, indicating proper hydration levels. Think Goldilocks, with her pale yellow hair, who would say, “Not too much, not too little, but just right.” 

Dark Yellow or Amber: Deeper shades of yellow may indicate mild dehydration. It is a sign that you may need to increase your fluid intake.  

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Neon Yellow: This color, while striking, is normally safe. Certain vitamins, like vitamin B complex, may flush out of your system and create a vivid neon-yellow color. Suppose you know you just took B vitamins within the past day; you can rest assured that they probably caused this vibrant color change.  

Orange: Orange-colored urine can result from certain medications, dehydration, or the presence of bilirubin, which may be a sign of liver issues or bile duct problems. If you’ve ruled out those possibilities and the color persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, consult a healthcare professional. 

Pink or Red: Blood in the urine (hematuria) can give it a pink or reddish hue. This could be caused by urinary tract infections, kidney stones, bladder or kidney infections, or more serious conditions. Immediate medical attention is advisable if you notice this color. However, if you recently ate beets within 24-48 hours, you may see this color and can likely attribute it solely to the ruby-colored vegetable, not a health issue. No need to panic! 

Brown: Urine that appears brownish may indicate liver disorders, severe dehydration, or the presence of certain medications or foods. It is best to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and to drink some water while you wait for an appointment.   

Green or Blue: Rarely, urine can take on a green or blue color due to certain medications, genetic conditions, or bacterial infections. Of course, if you recently ate something with a lot of artificial green or blue food coloring, don’t rule that out as a potential culprit.  

Cloudy or Murky: Cloudiness in urine may suggest a urinary tract infection, kidney stones, or other underlying conditions. It could also be caused by excessive crystallization or the presence of pus or blood cells. Consulting a healthcare professional is recommended. 

Foamy: Occasional foamy urine is usually harmless and can result from a strong urine stream hitting the toilet water. However, persistent foamy urine that doesn’t dissipate may indicate the presence of protein, which could be a sign of kidney problems. Medical evaluation is advisable if foamy urine persists. 

It is worth noting that various factors, such as medications, diet, vitamins, and supplements, can influence urine color. A few colors that may result from other things are: 

Pink, red, or light brown urine: 

  • If you ate beets, blackberries, or certain food colorings 
  • Kidney or urinary tract injuries 
  • Hemolytic anemia 
  • Medications 
  • Porphyria 
  • Urinary tract disorders that cause bleeding 
  • Blood from vaginal bleeding, including menstrual cycles 
  • Tumors in the bladder or kidneys  

Dark yellow or orange urine: 

  • B complex vitamins or carotene 
  • Medications such as phenazopyridine (used to treat urinary tract infections), rifampin, and warfarin 
  • Recent laxative use 

Green or blue urine: 

  • Artificial colors in foods or drugs 
  • Bilirubin 
  • Medications, including methylene blue 
  • Urinary tract infections 

Other things to note about your urine are if it has a foul or unusual odor. Keep in mind that this, too, can be impacted by your diet. Coffee, brussels sprouts, asparagus, garlic, and onions can all cause a change in smell.  

As with any of these, keep an eye on what is normal for your body, and contact your health provider accordingly.  

 Your Pee, Your Health, and You 

Why not start keeping tabs on your own urine as a means of monitoring your health? From noting its color day-to-day to considering what you’ve eaten and consumed recently, you can take a pebble from the tablet-held knowledge of Hippocrates and ancient Egyptians and continue the practice of urinalysis from home for free.

And there you have it, yet another tool to help you take your health into your own hands, one bathroom break at a time. 

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