Is this cause for concern?

It’s normal for urine to have a distinct odor. In fact, each person’s urine has its own unique scent.

Small fluctuations in odor — often because of what you’ve eaten or how much you had to drink — usually aren’t cause for concern.

Sometimes, your urine can even take on a sulfur-like scent. Learn what may be behind this, which other symptoms to watch for, and when to see your doctor.

1. Asparagus and other foods

Asparagus is notorious for making urine smell like sulfur after you eat it. This is because our bodies convert the asparagusic acid it contains into sulfur-containing chemicals. These chemicals leave the body through urine, causing the distinct sulfur smell.

Eating large amounts of onions or garlic can also cause this odor.

What you can do

Avoiding these foods is the only way to keep the odor from occurring. However, you can reduce the odor’s severity by drinking plenty of water before and during meals that include these foods. This can dilute the chemicals in the urine and prevent or reduce the sulfur smell.

2. Dehydration

Urine is made up of a mix of water and chemicals that are leaving the body. If you’re dehydrated, the ratio of water to chemicals becomes smaller. Without water to dilute the chemical scent, your urine may take on a strong odor.

If your urine has even a small amount of a sulfur smell due to dietary or other causes, this smell will become more pronounced.

Other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • dry mouth
  • increased thirst
  • feeling tired
  • headache
  • dry skin
  • dizziness

What you can do

Drink plenty of fluids — including water — in order to stay hydrated. You should drink at least eight different eight-ounce glasses of fluids every day.

Avoid drinks like coffee and alcohol, which are diuretics. Diuretics will cause you to urinate more often, making it easier to become dehydrated.

3. Certain medications

Sometimes, medications can cause your urine to smell like sulfur. Two common examples are vitamin B supplements and sulfa drugs.

Sulfa drugs treat a wide number of conditions, including:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • infections
  • diabetes

Vitamin B supplements and sulfa drugs affect your body’s chemical balance. This may result in an excess of sulfur chemicals leaving your body through your urine.

What you can do

Drinking more water will help reduce the sulfur odor that occurs with these medications.

If the scent persists, you may consider talking to your doctor about alternative medications that you can try. For example, you could try a B-12 shot instead of an oral B-12 supplement.

4. Urinary tract infection (UTI)

UTIs are often caused by bacteria, which can contaminate the urine and cause it to develop a different odor than normal.

Other symptoms of a UTI include:

  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • feeling like you need to urinate frequently, but only passing a small amount of urine
  • pelvic pain in women
  • bloody urine
  • cloudy urine

What you can do

If you suspect a UTI, see your doctor. They’ll prescribe a round of antibiotics to clear the infection.

You may be able to prevent recurrent UTIs by drinking plenty of water and cranberry juice. This will help flush chemicals or bacteria from your urinary tract.

5. Cystitis

Cystitis refers to inflammation of the bladder. It’s usually caused either by a UTI or an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria naturally found within the body.

When caused by bacteria, the bacteria will affect the urine as it sits in or passes through the bladder. This can lead to strong, sulfur-smelling urine.

Other symptoms of cystitis include:

  • frequent urge to urinate, even after you’ve just emptied the bladder
  • blood in the urine
  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • abdominal or lower back cramping
  • pain during intercourse

What you can do

If you’re experiencing symptoms of cystitis, see your doctor. They’ll prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial infection. Drink plenty of water to help get rid of the infection and dilute the sulfur smell.

Drinking cranberry juice can also help prevent cystitis-related UTIs.

6. Liver problems

If the liver isn’t functioning properly, it isn’t able to properly filter out toxins from the urine. This can change the appearance, odor, and even the consistency of your urine.

Other symptoms of liver problems include:

  • jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles
  • itching skin
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • urine that’s darker in color than normal
  • loss of appetite
  • being bruised easier than normal
  • pale stool, tar-colored stool, or blood in the stool

What you can do

If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, see your doctor. They can identify the underlying cause and create a treatment plan tailored to the diagnosis.

A typical treatment plan may involve:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • restricting alcohol consumption
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • taking medications to treat viruses that may have caused the liver damage

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend a liver transplant.

7. Prostatitis

Prostatitis refers to painful inflammation of a man’s prostate and surrounding areas. It can be chronic or acute, and it’s often caused by a bacterial infection.

Bacteria can contaminate the urine as it leaves the bladder and moves into the urethra, causing the foul smell like sulfur in the urine.

Other symptoms of prostatitis include:

  • pain in or near the scrotum, penis, or perineum
  • pain in the lower back
  • pain during or after urination
  • pain during or after ejaculation
  • a urine stream that’s weaker than normal, or is interrupted

What you can do

If you’re experiencing symptoms of prostatitis, see your doctor. If an infection is behind your symptoms, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Be sure to drink lots of fluids and urinate frequently. This can help to treat and prevent infections.

8. Fistula

Fistulas are abnormal connections between two parts within the body, such as between the intestines and the bladder. When this happens, bacteria from the intestines moves into the bladder.

This may cause recurrent UTIs or bladder infections, resulting in urine with a sulfur-like scent. This odor can also occur without an infection.

Other symptoms of a bladder fistula include recurrent bladder infections or UTIs and urine that smells like stool.

What you can do

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, see your doctor. They’ll likely recommend surgery to correct or remove the fistula. If your fistula is caused by an inflammatory condition, this will be treated, too.

9. Hypermethioninemia

Hypermethioninemia is an inherited condition. It occurs when there’s excess amino acid methionine in your blood.

A sulfur-like odor often occurs when the methionine isn’t broken down properly within the body. You may also experience breath or sweat that smells like sulfur.

Other symptoms include:

  • delays in intellectual and motor skills in infants and toddlers
  • liver problems
  • muscle weakness
  • sluggishness
  • neurological problems

What you can do

If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, see your doctor for diagnosis. Treatment often includes a low-methionine, or protein-restricted, diet to help manage your symptoms and balance your methionine levels.

When to see your doctor

If you’ve noticed that your urine has started to smell like sulfur, it may be temporary. You should make an appointment to see your doctor if it doesn’t go away after one week.

You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you start to experience:

  • pain when urinating
  • cloudy urine
  • bloody urine
  • abdominal, pelvic, or back pain