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Urine usually smells mild, but various factors can cause it to have a different odor than usual. A person may be concerned if their urine smells like popcorn. However, this can occur for several reasons, most of which are no cause for concern.

The common causes of urine having a popcorn-like smell include diabetes, pregnancy, and a diet high in protein.

This article discusses some of the reasons why a person’s urine may smell like popcorn and explains when to see a doctor about changes in urine odor.

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People may worry if their urine smells like popcorn, but this is not uncommon, and in most cases, the odor change is temporary. However, if the unusual smell persists, it is worth seeing a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

Urine consists mainly of water. When it looks or smells different than usual, this is due to waste products that come from the body. Therefore, the look and smell of urine can tell doctors a lot about a person’s health.

Common reasons for urine to smell like popcorn include:

Diabetes

People with diabetes may have a very high level of ketones in their bloodstream. When the body excretes these in the urine, they can make the urine smell like popcorn. A high level of ketones in the urine or blood occurs when a person enters ketosis.

The body will produce ketones when it does not have enough sugar or glucose for fuel. This might happen overnight or when a person is fasting.

Having a small number of ketones in the bloodstream is normal, especially for people who exercise a lot or do other activities that encourage the body to burn fat. However, if a person with diabetes does not control their condition, a dangerously high level of ketones can build in their blood.

This life threatening metabolic state is called ketoacidosis, and it requires immediate medical attention. For some people, it is the first sign that they have diabetes.

In most cases, people with ketoacidosis have sweet, strong-smelling urine. Ketoacidosis can develop within 24 hours of having consistently high blood glucose levels, called hyperglycemia.

It is possible to measure urinary ketones using ketone strips, which are available in drugstores or online.

Additional signs and symptoms of ketoacidosis include:

  • increased urination
  • dehydration
  • excessive, unquenchable thirst
  • sweet-smelling, or “fruity,” breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • confusion and disorientation
  • hyperventilating or Kussmaul breathing, which is deep, labored breathing
  • fainting

Ketoacidosis constitutes a medical emergency, so if anyone suspects this condition, they should call the emergency services immediately.

Other than diabetes, the most common causes of ketoacidosis are starvation and chronic, excessive alcohol use.

Eating a lot of protein

Another way to enter ketosis is by eating a lot of protein. When a person eats a lot of protein instead of carbohydrates, their body uses protein and stored fat for energy instead of using carbohydrates as it would usually do.

As a result, the ketone level in the blood will rise. When these ketones leave the body in the urine, the urine may smell sweet or similar to popcorn.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the smell of urine may change for a few reasons, including:

  • Altered sense of smell: As a person’s sense of smell changes slightly during pregnancy, everyday scents may smell different than usual.
  • Hormonal changes: In the very early stages of pregnancy, increased levels of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) circulate in the blood, which can cause urine to smell different or more strongly.
  • Gestational diabetes: Research suggests that in the United States, about 1 in 13 pregnant people over the age of 20 years develop a form of temporary diabetes known as gestational diabetes. Ketoacidosis is a serious but rare complication in those with gestational diabetes.

Dehydration

When someone is dehydrated, the body excretes less water in the urine. As a result, the urine is more concentrated, darker, and stronger smelling than usual. If the waste products in urine have a popcorn smell, the urine may also smell like popcorn once it is more concentrated.

Aside from strong-smelling urine, additional symptoms of dehydration include:

People usually do not need to worry if their urine smells a bit different than usual for a day or two.

However, if they notice that their urine smells sweet, resembling the smell of popcorn, for several days, they should speak with a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

In particular, people who have diabetes or are pregnant should talk with a doctor about any changes in the smell of their urine, especially if it is strong and sweet smelling.

Popcorn-scented urine typically occurs as a result of dietary factors or dehydration and is no cause for concern.

However, if the smell lasts longer than a few days, with diet or fluid intake unlikely to be the cause, it is best to visit a doctor.

Pregnant people and those with diabetes or other symptoms of diabetes should speak with a doctor if they notice the smell. In these circumstances, popcorn-scented urine may be a sign of a serious medical issue.