urine smells like sulfur

Urine smells like sulfur: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Urine doesn’t usually have a strong, foul odor. However, there are cases where an individual will notice that their urine smells like sulfur. This is something that should not be ignored. While it could simply be related to diet, there are also some medical conditions that can be linked to urine smell.

The kidneys perform an important function when they filter excess water and waste out of our blood. This helps get rid of toxins that can build up and make us ill. When we are in good health, there are normally no abnormalities when we urinate. When our urine smells like rotten eggs though, we have to ask ourselves when the smell began, what activities we were engaged in when the change in urine first appeared, and what we’ve been eating lately. The answers can help determine whether the sulfur smell in the urine is worrisome or not.

Related: What causes smelly urine and how to get rid of strong urine odor?

Why does your urine smell like rotten eggs?

So why does urine smell like sulfur? It could be as simple as last night’s dinner. For example, asparagus is one food item that can give urine a strong scent. The odor comes from a sulfur compound called methyl mercaptan. It is also found in garlic. Ironically, this is the same compound that is in skunk secretions. When sulfur-containing acids break down in food, they create that odor when urine is excreted. This does not mean that you can expect urine that smells like rotten eggs every time you eat asparagus or some other healthy vegetable. As it turns out, some scientists believe that only half the population has the ability to break down the acids in food like asparagus into small components, which lead to the foul smell.

Let’s look at the various reasons why urine smells like sulfur:

Diet: Eating certain foods like asparagus and consuming citrus fruits or vinegar in excess can cause excretion of the excess acid through ammonia. The ammonia creates a sulfur or rotten egg-like smell in urine.

Medications: Medications such as antibiotics or supplements like multivitamins can change the odor of urine.

Liver problems: When the liver is not functioning properly, it can change the appearance and smell of urine.

Cystitis: This is a condition that may be due to bacterial infection. Usually, the person with cystitis has sulfur smelling pee and the need to urinate overnight.

Cystinuria: This is an inherited urine disease. In this case, a person is unable to reabsorb the sulfur-containing amino acid known as cysteine.

Diabetes: Sometimes, levels of blood sugar become really high, creating ketones that create a scent similar to sulfur in the urine and sweat.

UTI: Urinary tract infections often present with a smell. Research suggests that it is due to the presence of fungi, parasites, and bacteria. The sulfur smell seems to happen in women, not men. UTIs also come with a burning while urinating.

Bladder infection: A bladder infection can cause a rotten egg-like smell. This type of infection can spread quickly to other organs, so it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.

Dehydration: It may sound odd, but dehydration can cause urine smells like sulfur.

Enlarged prostate or bladder disorder: This can impact how your bladder empties. Any leftover urine can produce a sulfur-like odor.

Hemolytic anemia: When red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over, it can cause a strong sulfur smell in urine.

It is worth noting that there is also a condition called maple syrup urine disease that makes urine smell like maple syrup. The condition affects children and seems to be common in Mennonite communities. Babies with maple syrup urine can also experience poor feeding, vomiting, lack of energy, and developmental delays.

What are the other symptoms that accompany sulfur smell in urine?

While smelly urine is a symptom, there are other signs and symptoms that can accompany the foul odor. For example, a high-grade fever, pelvic discomfort—especially when urinating—chills, and queasiness are common symptoms.

If the smell is due to a bacterial infection, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Frequent urination
  • Urine color changes
  • Back ache
  • Groin ache
  • Unusual vaginal discharge in women
  • Discomfort during sexual intercourse for women
  • Itchiness
  • Vomiting

Urine smells like sulfur: Treatment

There are some natural remedies and medical approaches to dealing with your foul urine. The following is a comprehensive list of treatment options.

Detox: Some people find that detoxifying their system by consuming lemon water on an empty stomach every morning is enough to clear the odor.

Hydrate: For those who are suffering from dehydration, drinking plenty of water and eating fresh, juicy fruits can help increase water levels and eliminate the smell.

Cranberry juice: This helps combat UTIs and is known to assist in cleansing the kidneys. You can also eat whole cranberries.

Diet adjustments: Avoiding foods high in B vitamins, such as asparagus, garlic, and onion just might do the trick.

Proper hygiene: Maintaining good hygiene in the sexual region is important to those who are prone to infections.

Baking soda: Some people who suffer from UTIs find that in the early stages of the infection, sipping a mixture of baking soda and water throughout the day helps increase the acid in urine.

Salt-free yogurts: Consuming yogurt that is free of salt seems to be effective for many people trying to get rid of sulfur-smelling urine.

Antibiotics: This has been a traditional approach to treating urinary tract infections. However, more people are becoming resistant to antibiotics and researchers are testing other medications, including immune-boosting drugs, that could help urinary tract cells become more resistant to infections.

Vaginal creams: Some women, especially those who are past menopause, seem to do well treating their sulfur smelling urine with a vaginal cream that contains estrogen.

There are certain causes of smelly urine that require a more specific treatment. In the case of prostatitis, which is swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland, common treatments include the following: Antibiotics, which are administered through intravenous if symptoms are severe; alpha blockers, formulated to relax the bladder neck and muscle fibers where the prostate joints the bladder, thus easing painful urination; and anti-inflammatory drugs, which can make a sufferer more comfortable.

Here’s a look at some of the other causes of sulfur smelling urine and the specific treatment options:

Kidney Stones

Painkillers: Stones can be difficult to pass and cause severe pain.

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESEL): This is a high-energy shockwave that targets the stones and breaks them up to make them easier to pass when the person urinates.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL): This is a technique used to break up stones into fragments so they can be removed via a telescope-like instrument.

Ureteroscopy: This procedure involves a thin telescope being passed up into the ureter and a laser being used to break up the stone.

Surgery: In a small number of cases, surgery is required to remove a kidney stone.

Hemolytic anemia

Blood transfusion: This is the process of transferring the blood of a person into another.

Intravenous immunoglobulin: IVIG is a product that is made up of antibodies that can be given intravenously. It is made from donated blood and can help fight infection.

Corticosteroid medication: This is an anti-inflammatory medicine.

Surgery: Unfortunately, some people with hemolytic anemia end up needing surgery.

Diabetes

Medical treatments: Those who suffer from type-1 diabetes or gestational diabetes can get insulin therapy. Oral medications, such as metformin, are also used to help regulate blood sugar levels.

If you have urine that smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, it is important to get it checked out, but you should also stay calm. In the majority of cases, it is either something you had to eat or dehydration that is causing it. Obviously, these two situations can be easily resolved. If you suffer from diabetes, find that you are urinating frequently, or show any of the other unusual signs outlined here, see a doctor so you can get a proper diagnosis and quick treatment.

Related: What your urine color and urine odor say about your health


Author Bio

Devon Andre has been involved in the health and dietary supplement industry for a number of years. Devon has written extensively for Bel Marra Health. He has a Bachelor of Forensic Science from the University of Windsor, and went on to complete a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh. Devon is keenly aware of trends and new developments in the area of health and wellness. He embraces an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices. By working to inform readers of the options available to them, he hopes to improve their health and quality of life.

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