Thursday, October 20, 2011
It's kind of an embarrassing topic, but you've probably noticed that your urine isn't always the same. Sometimes it's lighter, sometimes it's darker, sometimes it's clear, sometimes it's cloudy. So what's causing the changes, and what do they say about your health? We asked London-based physician Lauren A. Bumby, MD, what to look for when you "gotta go."
Your urine can give you a general idea about your health status -- more specifically, your hydration. A lighter color is definitely better than a dark color. When our urine turns dark (like the color of iced tea), that either means you are dehydrated or your kidneys may not be working properly. Our urine turns dark when we are dehydrated because the kidney regulates our water balance. It senses that we need to retain water and therefore it decreases the amount of urine we make. The less water we get rid of and the less water that we have in our urine, the more concentrated the urine becomes and it turns darker. Ideally, urine should be either light yellow or clear.
Frequency and control
Frequency of urination could mean several things. It could mean a urinary tract infection, diabetes, drinking a lot of water, caffeine or alcohol. But it also could be the result of pregnancy -- natural childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, which control the urine flow. A common problem is "stress incontinence" -- a loss of bladder control with coughing, sneezing or laughing. This can happen as a result of the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. "Kegel exercises" (in which you squeeze, hold and release your pelvic muscles) can help to strengthen these muscles so bladder control is improved. Other options to improve bladder control include surgery or medications.
The odor of your urine could really change depending upon your diet. For instance, everyone knows that asparagus causes a rather unusual smell. Unless you have other symptoms such as frequency, urgency, burning and pain, then the odor does not matter too much.
Several red flags that indicate something more serious may be wrong (such as kidney dysfunction or bladder disease) are blood in the urine, persistent dark tea-colored urine, pain with urination, strong odor to the urine and excessive urination.
Your health in general
Overall general good health will improve bladder health, including eating fruits and vegetables, drinking enough water, exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight. The classic advice is to drink eight glasses of water each day, but more or less may be necessary due to your diet, activity level and body weight. The most important thing is to monitor the color of your urine, make sure you never feel thirsty (which means you are already dehydrated), maintain a healthy body mass index and maintain a healthy lifestyle.