Cloudy urine can be unsettling, especially when a person does not know the cause. Sometimes it can signal an issue with the urinary tract, such as dehydration or a urinary tract infection, or it may point to kidney problems.

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Each possible underlying cause of cloudy urine has additional symptoms, which can help a doctor make a diagnosis.

This article will give an overview of the possible causes of cloudy urine and how to treat them.

The following are the most common causes of cloudy urine:

1. Urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections (UTI) are one of the most common causes of cloudy urine, leading to more than 8.1 million visits to the doctor every year. The cloudy look of the urine typically comes from a discharge of either pus or blood into the urinary tract. It could also be a buildup of white blood cells that indicates the body is trying to eliminate invading bacteria.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, females are more likely than males to get UTIs.

Other symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • frequent urination
  • pain during urination
  • foul-smelling urine
  • inability to fully empty the bladder
  • abdominal, pelvis, or back pain
  • bloody, or dark-tinged urine

UTIs can lead to a kidney infection, a more severe form of UTI if left untreated. An untreated kidney infection can lead to permanent kidney damage.

Symptoms of a kidney infection may or may not include those of a UTI and may also include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • back or side pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal cramps

People should see their doctor as soon as possible if they are experiencing these symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment. Early treatment of a UTI can help relieve discomfort and prevent complications.

2. Dehydration

When more water leaves the body than the amount that enters it, dehydration can result. This can cause cloudy urine.

Children and older adults have a higher risk of dehydration.

Dehydration can be caused by:

  • poor fluid intake
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • fever
  • burns
  • diabetes

The symptoms of dehydration usually start mild and may include:

  • dark urine
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • difficulty concentrating
  • increased thirst
  • decreased urine production

People can usually correct early dehydration simply with more water consumption.

Severe dehydration can lead to more serious conditions such as disorientation, loss of consciousness, or death.

People should seek emergency medical care for severe dehydration.

3. Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

An STI is a disease passed from one person to another through sexual contact. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 20 million people in the U.S. get an STI every year.

Some common STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia may cause cloudy urine.

These diseases prompt the immune system to produce white blood cells that, when mixed with urine, give it its cloudy appearance.

Possible symptoms of STIs other than cloudy urine include:

  • genital itching
  • genital pain
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • pain during ejaculation
  • pain during urination
  • sores on genitals
  • foul-smelling discharge from genitals

The best way to prevent the spread of STIs is to use protection during sexual activity. Regular testing for STIs can help people receive an early diagnosis and treatment.

People should talk with their doctor if they have any questions or concerns.

4. Vaginitis

Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina and possibly the surrounding vulva. It can lead to cloudy urine. The most common cause of vaginitis is a bacterial infection, but viruses or fungi can also cause it.

In some cases, the body may react to the ingredients in soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, or other products. These reactions can cause inflammation in the vagina and vulva without an infection.

Additional symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • itching of the vagina or vulva
  • foul-smelling, discolored vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese
  • pain during urination
  • pain during sexual intercourse

People should see their doctor if they have concerns. They will determine whether the infection is bacterial, fungal, or viral and treat it accordingly.

5. Prostatitis

Prostatitis is an inflamed prostate that may cause cloudy urine. Infection or swelling of the prostate can cause this.

Other symptoms of prostatitis include:

  • pain during ejaculation
  • pain during urination
  • frequent urination
  • bloody, or dark-tinged urine
  • abdominal pain
  • genital pain
  • pelvic pain

5. Kidney stones

Kidney stones can also cause cloudy urine. They develop from the buildup of certain minerals in the body.

Small stones may pass without incident, but larger stones can block the urinary tract and cause a UTI. The most common symptom of passing kidney stones is severe pain below the ribs, generally near one side or the lower back. The pain may radiate to the lower abdomen or groin.

Other symptoms include:

  • pain during urination
  • fever
  • chills
  • bloody, or dark-tinged urine
  • foul-smelling urine

Some kidney stones do not require treatment and will pass on to the urinary tract independently.

People should see their doctor for proper diagnosis and management.

6. Diabetes or kidney damage from diabetes

Sometimes diabetes or diabetic kidney disease is the underlying cause of cloudy urine. The body may be trying to remove excess sugar that it cannot process by sending it through the urine.

Other signs of diabetes may include:

  • excessive thirst
  • excessive fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • frequent urination
  • frequent infections
  • inadequate wound healing

If left untreated, diabetes may ultimately lead to kidney failure. If people have diabetes or are experiencing any of these symptoms, they should talk with their doctor.

7. Diet

In some cases, a person’s diet can cause their urine to be cloudy.

For example, if a person consumes large amounts of phosphorous. In that case, a cloudy appearance will occur when their kidneys attempt to filter the excess mineral from the bloodstream.

The following foods contain phosphorous:

  • dairy
  • meats
  • seafood
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans

If people have cloudy urine, especially if it accompanies other symptoms, they should talk with their doctor. The underlying cause could be something serious.

The doctor will usually begin by asking the person questions about their symptoms and how long they’ve had them. They may do a physical exam. They may then order tests that will help them diagnose a person’s condition and treat it accordingly. The type of tests will depend on what the doctor suspects as the cause.

These tests can include:

  • Urine test. There are different types of urine tests, but they all look for different markers in a person’s urine that may indicate an underlying condition. These markers enter the urine via the kidneys from a person’s blood. For example, the test can show whether bacteria are present in the urine, which may indicate a UTI. Learn more about urinalysis.
  • Blood test. A doctor may want to do a blood test to find an underlying cause of cloudy urine. This can include a blood test to check the function of the kidneys
  • Cystoscopy. A surgical procedure that allows a doctor to examine the bladder and urethra with a small, thin tube.
  • Ultrasound or CT scan. These tests allow a doctor to see images of the bladder or kidneys to identify a problem.

Treatment for cloudy urine will depend on the underlying cause. Typical treatments for each issue include:

  • Dehydration. Treating dehydration may be as simple as drinking more fluids and eating foods that are rich in liquids. Severe dehydration may require IV fluids or hospitalization.
  • UTIs. Most UTIs respond well to a round of antibiotics. In more severe cases, the person may need to receive these drugs intravenously.
  • STIs. Treatment will depend on the type of STI. Infections such as gonorrhea and syphilis generally respond well to antibiotics.
  • Kidney stones. Many stones pass naturally. A doctor may prescribe pain medication if the passing stones are excruciating. The doctor may prescribe medications or shock wave therapy to break very large stones into passable pieces. Huge stones may require surgery.
  • Vaginitis. Doctors may recommend medications that attack bacteria, viruses, or fungi to treat vaginitis and clear up symptoms.
  • Prostatitis. Prostatitis may get better without treatment. If bacteria are causing the infection, antibiotics may help treat symptoms. For chronic cases, doctors may recommend medications to manage symptoms.
  • Diabetes. Kidney problems arising from diabetes may require frequent urine tests to check for damage in the kidney. A person will also need treatment for underlying diabetes

Do different things cause cloudy urine in men vs. women?

Females are more likely than men to have a UTI. They are also more likely to have an STI. Females can also have cloudy urine from vaginitis, whereas males will have cloudy urine from prostatitis.

Is cloudy urine serious?

Cloudy urine can be something as minor as simple dehydration. It can also indicate more serious disorders such as kidney disease or diabetes. If a person has concerns or is symptomatic, they should see their doctor.

Can urine be cloudy without an infection?

Urine can become cloudy from conditions other than infections. Diabetes, diet, kidney stones, and dehydration can all cause cloudy urine.

Cloudy urine can result from various common conditions, such as UTIs and mild dehydration. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in avoiding complications in cases that occur with other symptoms.

A person should take note of any other symptoms and share them with their doctor. It may help them determine the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

By working with a doctor and following their instructions, most people can clear up the underlying cause of cloudy urine.