There are many different causes of foul-smelling urine, and most are no cause for concern.
Getting rid of the sulfur smell in the urine involves treating the underlying cause, and there are times when a visit to the doctor may be necessary. In this article, we examine 11 possible causes of urine smelling like sulfur and explain how to treat each of them.
Here are 11 different reasons why urine can smell like sulfur. These range from common causes that people can treat easily to less frequent causes that require treatment.
1. Specific foods
The consumption of certain foods or medications can make a person's urine smell like sulfur.
Food is one of the factors most likely to change the smell of urine. Eating specific foods, including the following, can cause a sulfuric smell in the urine:
The digestion of these foods often creates sulfur-like compounds that exit the body in the urine. This causes the distinct smell that can appear after eating. The smell is temporary, and the urine should smell normal again once the digestion process is complete.
Drinking extra water may help to dilute the odor, but avoiding these foods is the only way to completely prevent the smell as it is just a natural part of the digestive process.
Some medications or supplements may also be responsible for changing the urine's odor. These include sulfa drugs, which treat diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions, and some supplements, such as B vitamins.
Drinking more water may help to dilute the sulfur compounds in the body and reduce the smell. If the problem continues or worsens, it may be best to talk to a doctor about switching medications.
Urine consists of water extracted from foods, together with chemicals and toxins that the body filters and releases.
When the body is not sufficiently hydrated, the urine becomes concentrated. This can give it a darker yellow or orange color, and often makes its smell quite potent.
If there are any sulfuric compounds in the body, dehydration may make them much more noticeable in the urine.
People should drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially after physical exercise.
It may also help to avoid diuretic drinks such as coffee, tea, or alcohol, as they can make the body urinate more and decrease fluid levels further.
4. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs often cause changes in the appearance or smell of the urine. Infections in the urinary tract may cause a buildup of bacteria, pus, or even blood in the urine, which could potentially change the smell.
People should always seek medical care for UTIs, which can be serious without treatment. Anyone who suspects they have a UTI should contact their doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and proper medical treatment.
Several different germs cause UTIs, but most respond well to antibacterial drugs.
5. Liver problems
Liver damage or a condition that causes the liver to stop working efficiently may also make it harder for the body to filter toxins from the urine. This can result in changes in the urine, one of which may be a foul smell.
If there is something wrong with the liver, additional symptoms will often appear, including:
- urine that is darker than normal
- nausea and vomiting
- swelling in the legs and feet
- yellowing of the skin
- abdominal pain
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor for a diagnosis. Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause, but can include changes in diet and lifestyle and taking certain medications.
People with diabetes may notice a few changes in their urine. Ketones form in the body when blood sugar levels are too high. The body releases these ketones in the urine, which may change its smell.
People are likely to experience a sulfur smell in their urine along with other symptoms such as excessive thirst, tiredness, and mood swings.
To remove the sulfur scent from the urine, people should ensure that they are using their insulin correctly and measuring the right amount each time they take it.
Controlling the blood sugar levels more successfully may help make the symptom disappear. Some doctors may prescribe additional drugs to give the person greater control.
Cystitis can cause the urine to smell sulphuric as the result of excess bacteria.
Inflammation in the bladder, known as cystitis, typically results from a buildup of bacteria. This may be due to a UTI or even to dysbiosis, where harmful bacteria increase in number and take over the good bacteria in the body.
The excess bacteria may change the smell or look of the urine as it sits in the bladder, which can lead to a sulfuric smell.
Cystitis needs prompt medical treatment. Antibiotics may help to get rid of bacterial infections, and drinking extra water and other liquids, such as cranberry juice or herbal tea, may help to dilute the smell.
Inflammation of the prostate, called prostatitis, may also lead to urine that smells like sulfur. A UTI or another infection can lead to inflammation of the prostate.
Prostatitis may cause other symptoms, such as difficulty urinating or an urgent need to urinate as the prostate pushes against the bladder. Many people also feel pain between their anus and scrotum and some may feel internal pain in their abdomen.
The treatment for prostatitis depends on what is causing the condition. Antibacterial medications may be necessary in the case of infection.
Some doctors may prescribe drugs called alpha-blockers to help relax the muscles in the area. Anti-inflammatory medications may also relieve pain and swelling, while heat treatment may help to ease some symptoms.
In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.
Cystinuria is an inherited condition that affects the urinary tract. It causes an excess of the amino acid cysteine to build up, which can lead to urinary stones forming in the kidneys. In addition, it may change the smell of the urine, as cysteine is high in sulfur.
Cystinuria often reacts well to medications and changes in diet and lifestyle, but sometimes surgery is necessary.
See a doctor if the smell lasts longer than a few days.
Hypermethioninemia occurs when there is an excess of the amino acid methionine in the blood.
This can occur if someone eats a lot of foods that contain methionine, or if the body does not break the amino acid down properly.
Many people with hypermethioninemia have no symptoms, but others may find that they have trouble standing or walking or that they experience nerve problems.
The breath, sweat, or urine of someone with hypermethioninemia may also become sulfuric.
Treatment includes introducing diet or lifestyle changes to balance methionine levels.
11. Gastrointestinal fistulas
Gastrointestinal fistulas are abnormal openings in the digestive tract that lead to other areas in the body, such as the bladder. They can cause gastric juices and other fluids to leak from the intestines into the bladder.
Leaking gastric juices may cause internal infections and can lead to recurrent UTIs that, in turn, could cause urine to smell like sulfur.
Gastrointestinal fistulas occur most commonly after abdominal surgery or in people with chronic digestive problems.
Treatment for a fistula depends on how large it is and how much gastric fluid is seeping through the opening.
Some fistulas may close on their own over time, while others may require surgery and regular monitoring to prevent severe conditions, such as sepsis.
When to see a doctor
Urine smelling of sulfur is usually a temporary symptom that goes away after a few trips to the bathroom. However, people should visit a doctor if the smell remains after a few days, or if they also have any of the following symptoms:
- cloudy urine
- milky streaks in the urine
- bloody urine
- pain or difficulty urinating
- pain in the back, pelvis, or abdomen
These signs indicate an infection or another internal issue that needs prompt medical treatment to avoid severe complications.