Except when you’ve been eating asparagus and wonder what that funny smell is all about, you probably never notice your urine. Maybe you should because your urine can reveal a lot about your health.
Examination of urine has been used by medical practitioners in many cultures for at least 6,000 years, and Hippocrates, in 400 B.C., correctly identified urine as a filtrate of blood. Most substances, good and bad, circulating in the blood eventually end up in the urine. These include bacteria, yeast, excess protein and sugar, toxins and drugs.
Urinalysis for medical reasons is common. It’s frequently used for a pregnancy checkup, to monitor a medical condition or as preparation for surgery or admission to the hospital. Although urinalysis is rarely enough by itself to diagnose an illness, it can determine the need for further testing. The idea is usually to detect substances that urine normally doesn’t include. Further testing may identify why they are present and what the consequences might be.
Some of the more obvious changes in urine can be detected by you and can provide clues regarding whether or not you might consider making an appointment with your physician.
COLOR: The normal shade is pale yellow; urine that is overly dark is probably highly concentrated, indicating that you are not drinking enough water and may be at risk of dehydration.
If you’re drinking a lot of water (usually no health problem) or if you’re taking a diuretic medication, your urine will be very pale — perhaps the color of water.
Urine that is red usually contains blood, and that’s scary — but not necessarily reason to panic. Blood in the urine can be a sign of an infection or a serious disease such as bladder cancer. Red-tinged urine can also be a sign that you have consumed beets, blackberries, rhubarb or medications such as rifampin or phenolphthalein.
Greenish-blue tints can be expected in persons taking certain medications. They can also be a sign of a pseudomonal infection or an elevated level of bilirubin, which, in turn, could be a sign of liver abnormalities. Dark orange or brown may be a sign of bile in the urine — reason to consult your doctor.
CLARITY: If you have cloudy urine and burning in your urinary tract, plus frequent and urgent urination, you probably have a urinary tract infection — unpleasant but not dangerous if you get treatment right away. Cloudiness can also indicate crystals in the urine that could eventually lead to kidney stones.
ODOR: Urine normally has only a slightly nutty aroma.
A foul smell probably indicates a urinary tract infection or congealed blood. A sweet smell or taste can be a sign of blood sugar in the urine and reason for follow-up testing for diabetes.
PROTEIN, KETONES: As part of a medical urinalysis, a dipstick test is used to determine the level of sugar, protein, ketones and other substances in the urine.
Low levels of protein in the urine are usually no cause for concern, but high levels can indicate a kidney problem.
Ketones are substances produced when fat is broken down for energy. A low carbohydrate diet, starvation or severe vomiting can result in ketones in the urine. Large levels of ketones indicate diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe medical condition.
MICROSCOPIC EXAMINATION: A microscopic examination of several drops of urine can detect other abnormalities. These include abnormal levels of white blood cells (a sign of an infection); red blood cells (a sign of kidney diseases, blood disorders, bladder cancer or other disorders); bacteria or yeasts (that could be a sign of an infection).
The whole process of collecting and evaluating a urine sample is simple, non-invasive, painless and inexpensive considering all of the information that can be gleaned. That’s why urinalysis has been used for many years and is likely to continue to play an important role in health care.
Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.