If your urine is cloudy, it may mean something is amiss with your urinary tract. While cloudy urine doesn’t typically indicate a medical emergency, it can be a sign of a serious medical problem.
Cloudy urine can be caused by:
- kidney problems
- some chronic diseases
Keep reading to learn more about the most common causes of cloudy urine in both men and women.
Dark and cloudy urine is often caused by dehydration, which happens whenever you lose more water than you take in. It’s most common in young children, older adults, and people with chronic diseases, but it can happen to anyone. Many healthy adults experience mild dehydration in the morning and after vigorous exercise.
When you’re dehydrated, your body holds on to as much water it can. This means that your urine will be highly concentrated and appear darker than usual.
Symptoms of significant dehydration can include:
- very dark or cloudy urine
- extreme thirst
- infrequent urination
- in babies, dry diapers
- dry mouth
Mild cases of dehydration, such as those that occur in the morning, can be treated at home. Increasing your water consumption for a few hours should help replenish your fluids.
If your child is ill with vomiting or diarrhea, talk to your doctor about how best to treat your child. Sick children should be monitored closely and often can be treated with an over-the-counter rehydration solution containing water and electrolytes. (Pedialyte is a good example.)
Severe cases of dehydration or those that don’t improve with at-home treatment require hospitalization.
Urinary tract infection
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common cause of cloudy urine. UTIs are infections that occur anywhere along the urinary tract. They can affect the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys.
UTIs are more common in women than in men, because women have a shorter urethra that is more easily contaminated by vaginal and fecal bacteria.
UTIs happen when bacteria grow out of control. Your body sends white blood cells to fight the infection. These cells are often excreted in urine. When white blood cells mix with urine, it appears cloudy or milky.
Other symptoms of UTIs include:
- a strong or constant need to urinate
- urine that appears cloudy, milky, red, pink, or brown
- strong- or foul-smelling urine
- a burning sensation while urinating
- low or mid back ache
- feeling the need to urinate, but urinating small amounts
- pelvic pain in women
UTIs require immediate treatment with antibiotics. UTIs are typically easily treatable, but left untreated they can become serious infections. An untreated UTI can lead to:
- kidney damage
- ongoing infections
- pregnancy complications
- sepsis (a life-threatening blood stream infection)
Cloudy urine is sometimes caused by a type of vaginitis. Vaginitis is an infection of the vagina and includes:
Bacterial vaginosis and other infections happen when certain bacteria, fungi, or other organisms are in high numbers.
A healthy vagina normally maintains a delicate balance of good bacteria. Under certain circumstances, however, this balance is lost. This imbalance leads to an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and a change in vaginal chemistry known as bacterial vaginosis.
Vaginitis causes cloudy urine when white blood cells or discharge mixes with your urine.
Other signs of vaginitis include:
- itching, pain, or burning in or around the vagina
- abnormal watery discharge
- foul-smelling discharge
- a fish-like odor that worsens after sex
- yellow, green, grey, or cottage cheese-like discharge
- burning while urinating
Vaginitis treatments depend on what’s causing the problem. Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis are treated with antibiotics. Vaginal yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications.
Failing to treat vaginitis may increase your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Kidney stones are abnormal deposits of minerals and salts that form inside your urinary tract. They can grow quite large and cause a great deal of pain.
Kidney stones can also become lodged inside your urinary tract, where they can cause an infection and blockages. Cloudy urine may be a sign that you have a kidney stone or that a kidney stone has led to an infection.
Symptoms of kidney stones can include:
- intense pain below the ribs on your side or back
- radiating pain in your lower abdomen and groin
- pain that comes in waves
- pain while urinating
- pink, red, or brown urine
- foul-smelling urine
Most kidney stones will pass on their own without treatment. Your doctor can give you pain medication to make you more comfortable while you work to flush the stone from your body (by drinking lots of fluids).
Larger stones or stones that lead to infections may require medical intervention. Doctors may attempt to break up the stone using sound waves, or they may extract it surgically. Infections are treated with antibiotics.
Kidney disease caused by diabetes or hypertension
Most cases of chronic kidney disease are caused by diabetes or hypertension. Chronic kidney disease occurs in stages. The progression of chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. Kidney failure happens when your kidney function drops below 15 percent of normal.
Your kidneys are responsible for filtering waste and extra fluid out of your body. When the kidneys don’t work properly, waste products build up and disrupt the delicate balance of salt and minerals in your bloodstream. Because the kidneys are primarily responsible for producing urine, changes in the function of the kidneys can change the way your urine looks or smells.
Symptoms of kidney failure can include:
- swelling, often in the legs, ankles, and feet
- nausea and vomiting
- fatigue during the day and insomnia at night
- stomach problems, including loss of appetite and weight loss
- muscle cramps, weakness, or numbness
- producing little or no urine
- pain or stiffness in your joints
- confusion or cognitive problems
Kidney failure is serious, but can be managed. Treatment options include hemodialysis and kidney transplant. During hemodialysis, your blood is processed through an external filter that works like an artificial kidney.
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that can be passed from one person to another during sexual contact.
Many common STIs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, have few symptoms. As with other infections (vaginitis and UTIs), white blood cells respond to the site of the infection. These white blood cells can mix with urine, creating a cloudy appearance.
STIs can also cause abnormal vaginal or penile discharge. As urine exits the urethra, it can mix with discharge and become cloudy.
Other possible signs and symptoms of an STI include:
- genital itching
- burning during urination
- rash, blisters, or warts
- genital pain
- pelvic pain in women
- pain during or after sex
Treatments for STIs depend on which type you have. Antibiotics are the most common course of action. When STIs go untreated in women, they can cause fertility problems, serious pelvic infections, and pregnancy complications. In men, STIs can lead to infections of the prostate and other organs of the reproductive tract.
People with diabetes have abnormally high levels of sugar in their blood. The kidneys have to work overtime to filter out this sugar. This sugar is often excreted in urine.
Diabetes stresses the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Kidney disease is often diagnosed by measuring the presence of certain proteins in the urine. These proteins may alter the appearance or odor of urine.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- weight loss
- slow healing
- frequent infections
Type 2 diabetes can be managed with medications, diet, and weight loss. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin. The risk of kidney damage lessens with tight blood sugar control.
It’s possible that too much milk is turning your urine cloudy. Milk products contain calcium phosphate. The kidneys are responsible for filtering phosphorus out of the blood, so excess phosphorous will end up in the urine.
When phosphorus is excreted in your urine, it’s called phosphaturia. Phosphorus in the urine may turn it cloudy. If this condition persists, see your doctor for further evaluation. Phosphate in the urine can be a sign of other medical problems.
Problems with the prostate, like prostatitis, can cause cloudy urine.
Prostatitis is inflammation or infection of the prostate, a gland that sits below the bladder in men. Prostatitis has several causes, including infections. It can come on suddenly (acute) or be ongoing (chronic). Cloudy urine may result from white blood cells, pus, or penile discharge.
Symptoms of prostatitis include:
- pain or burning during urination
- difficulty urinating (dribbling or hesitations)
- frequent urinations, especially at night
- urinary urgency
- blood in the urine or ejaculate
- pain in the abdomen, groin, or lower back
- pain in the genitals
- painful ejaculation
- flu-like symptoms
Treatment for prostatitis depends on the cause, but may include antibiotics, alpha blockers, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
During pregnancy, cloudy urine can be caused by UTIs, STIs, or vaginitis. The symptoms for these conditions are the same as in nonpregnant women. However, because these infections can lead to pregnancy complications, it’s particularly important to seek treatment. Untreated infections can lead to low birth weight, premature labor, and other more serious infections.
Protein in the urine is sometimes a sign of preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy complication. Proteins don’t typically change the appearance of urine, but if protein levels are high enough, urine can appear foamy.
Contact your doctor immediately if you’re pregnant and suspect that you have a urinary or vaginal infection, or any signs of preeclampsia.
There are many possible reasons why your urine could look cloudy. Some are harmless, but others require medical attention. If this condition persists for more than a few days, make an appointment with your family doctor. Urine and blood tests are typically needed for diagnosis.