We know how easy it is to just flush and go. But taking just 2 seconds to examine your urine can give you instant insight into how your body is doing, says Allan Pantuck, MD, a professor of urology at UCLA Health in Los Angeles. Whether you just need to step up your water intake or get checked for an infection — or even cancer — that quick peek will guide you.
Here are a few things your urine can show you:
Your hydration level
Healthy urine should appear light yellow or light amber, says Dr. Pantuck. If your urine is clear, according to the Cleveland Clinic, that could mean you’re consuming too much fluid and can actually consider cutting back.
On the flip side, if you’re not drinking enough fluid, your urine could become overly concentrated and appear darker. If this happens, it means you need to hydrate better. Despite the old 8-glasses-a-day rule, everyone’s needs are different. Paying attention to the color of your urine is a good way to tell how you’re doing.
Your liver and muscle function
If your urine starts leaning into cola-colored territory, call your doctor. A brown shade could indicate liver problems or muscle damage, Dr. Pantuck says. If your liver isn’t working well, it can leak a compound called bilirubin into your urine, which causes it to turn brown. Your doctor might also test for the protein myoglobin, which is released when the heart or skeletal muscles are injured in some way, either from an underlying condition (such as muscular dystrophy or a heart attack) or extreme overuse (like running a marathon).
Your kidney-stone future
The more concentrated your urine, the greater chance you have of developing a kidney stone, says Dr. Pantuck. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you may also just not be getting enough water. If you’ve had kidney stones or have a family history of them, it’s especially important to drink up.
Your odds of an infection (or cancer)
If your urine appears red or has some red discoloration laced throughout, you’ll want to see your doctor. Redness can mean blood. Many times, it’s a routine urinary tract infection that can be treated with antibiotics. But sometimes, it can be an early sign of bladder cancer, especially in older adults. “Any blood in the urine should be checked,” Dr. Pantuck says, “even if it’s off and on — it may still be an issue.”
Take note, though, if you’ve recently consumed beets, blueberries or rhubarb: These can sometimes cause a reddish hue. The color should return to normal after a bowel movement or two. It still may be a good idea to see your health professional. That will help to rule out something more serious, especially if you have other symptoms.
Your kidney function
In addition to color, be aware of how transparent your urine is. Cloudiness or debris can be a sign of infection. And if urine is foamy, you may be passing extra protein, which can be a sign that your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Either way, you know what to do: Call your doctor.
The bottom line
Take what’s in the toilet seriously. Your urine might be cloudy or darker for a day if you’re dehydrated. If that lasts for a few days or more, make an appointment with your doctor for testing. If your urine is red or you’re experiencing pain, urgency, itching or any other discomfort, see your doctor right away for immediate treatment.