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What’s Up with the Color of My Pee?

Your urine can display some surprising hues, and those colors can tell you things about your health — including when you need to see a doctor.

Let’s Be Clear

The first thing you need to know is: what color is your urine supposed to be? If you answered “yellow,” we’ll give you another chance. (It’s a common misperception.) The correct answer is “clear.” If there’s a slight yellow tinge — sometimes even amber, in the morning — that's OK too. Any light shade of yellow that is clear and transparent — see-through, in other words — is good.

Some things that can change that color don’t necessarily spell trouble — for example B12 and other supplements can turn your urine a seriously neon yellow. But urologists really only care about one color: red. Red can mean blood in the urine, a warning sign that you should talk with a healthcare provider. Even if you do have reddish urine, there can be other reasons — for instance blueberries, beets and rhubarb can turn your urine pinkish or reddish — but you need to have it checked out.

Another benign reason for pink or red urine is something called sports-related hematuria, common in runners. But even athletes shouldn’t just assume. Your doctor will still want to rule out other causes like cancer, a tumor, kidney stones or an enlarged prostate. (Runners can have those issues, too.)

Blood can show up in men with enlarged prostates when urine flowing out of the bladder irritates the prostate lining. Urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases can be a culprit too, as well as scarring on the inside of the urine channel, or a recent trauma like a bruised kidney.

Bottom line: If you’re seeing red, get it checked out.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Summers are hot and getting hotter, and we’re all urged to drink more water. But it’s important to think not only about the water you’re taking in but also the water you’re putting out. (Yes, peeing).

A general guideline is that you should put out about 2 liters of fluid a day. That could mean you also need to take in 2 liters, or you may need more. On a hot day, you’re dehydrated, you're perspiring — the amount of water you take in will need to be greater, to balance these things.

Before you start swallowing gallons of water, know that it’s possible to have too much, which can create an imbalance in the salts in the body. Men with heart or kidney issues have to be careful about water overload because their bodies are not able to filter it all out, leading to swelling and other issues. (Pro tip: Don’t chug it — spread your intake throughout the day, or you’re not going to make it through that date-night movie.)

What Else?

There are other things that can turn your urine cloudy or foamy or change its color. Some men may see white residue in the urine, which can happen if your pipes are not fully emptying during ejaculation, or if seminal fluid is being stored for longer periods of time because of erection issues or celibacy.

Infections also can affect the appearance of urine, but those tend to come with signs that let you know what’s going on, like an overactive bladder or burning when you pee.

If your doctor needs to take a closer look, they may want to insert a camera up the urethra. Imaging like a CAT scan may also be ordered, to look at the kidneys. Yes, the scope is uncomfortable for 12 to 15 seconds, but it’s 15 seconds that might save your life, and the whole process from scan to scope takes only minutes, a small price for the peace of mind you’ll get from knowing what’s going on.

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