If your urine smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, you might be really worried, but it’s probably nothing to worry about. Even better, we can help you figure out what’s causing your urine to smell strange.
In this guide, we’ll discuss all the potential causes of sulfur-smelling pee. We’ll also help you figure out if you need to make an appointment with your doctor.
Why Does My Pee Smell Like Rotten Eggs?
If you’re wondering, “why does my urine smell like sulfur?” let us help you figure it out. There are tons of potential reasons, ranging from something as minor as your diet to as major as a gastrointestinal fistula.
In the following sections, we’ll go over all the possible causes of sulfur-smelling urine. We’ll start with common and relatively harmless reasons that don’t typically require medical attention. Then we’ll discuss some common medical issues that can cause your urine to smell like sulfur. Finally, we’ll discuss the rarest causes that of pee that smells like rotten eggs.
Common, Benign Reasons Your Urine Smells Like Sulfur
If your pee smells like sulfur, there are a number of pretty harmless potential reasons that don’t usually require medical attention.
When you are experiencing minor to moderate dehydration, your urine becomes more concentrated. This means that all of the other compounds that are normally in your urine other than water lend your concentrated urine a stronger smell. Some people find that their urine smells like sulfur when this happens. (When you are experiencing major dehydration, you may stop urinating altogether).
In addition to being smelly, your urine will probably be darker yellow or amber, and you’ll produce less of it. You may also experience thirst, dry mouth/dry skin, headache, dizziness, and fatigue or sleepiness.
A medical professional can usually diagnose dehydration by analyzing a urine sample. However, if your dehydration is not severe, this is probably not necessary. You can always drink some water and see if your symptoms abate.
Minor dehydration can be treated at home by drinking water or electrolyte-rich fluids like Gatorade or Pedialyte. If you’re severely dehydrated and/or you are having trouble keeping fluids down, you may need to get fluids by IV. The sulfur-smelling urine should go away as soon as you’re rehydrated and your urine becomes more dilute.
Alcohol or Caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, which means that they draw water out of the body and make you pee more. So if you aren’t also replenishing your body’s water supply when you drink alcohol or caffeine, you will, in simple terms, pee out a lot of your excess body water. Over the next few hours, your urine will become more concentrated with uric acid and other compounds, which will make the smell stronger. This might mean your urine smells like sulfur. For caffeinated beverages, you may even notice a slight coffee-like smell.
You’re basically becoming dehydrated when this happens, so it’s likely you’ll experience at least some of the other symptoms of dehydration: thirst, headache, dry mouth and skin, nausea, and dizziness, to name a few.
If you’re drinking alcohol, you will probably also experience some side effects of intoxication. You might experience skin flushing, relaxation, reduced inhibitions, sleepiness, and slowed reactions and reflexes.
If you’re drinking coffee, you’ll probably experience some other effects of caffeine, like extra energy, alertness, and increased bowel activity. Higher doses can cause the coffee jitters or an anxious feeling.
You probably don’t need an official diagnosis, although a medical professional could advise you and help you rule out other causes if you like. However, if you pay attention to when your urine smells like rotten eggs and you only notice it after you consume alcohol or coffee, you can safely assume that’s the culprit. There’s nothing to worry about if the smell goes away when you take steps to address the issue (like drinking more water with your coffee or reducing your intake).
Cutting down on your alcohol or caffeine intake will definitely help. You can also try making an effort to drink more water when you consume alcohol or caffeine. This will help address the smell problem as your urine will be more dilute.
Eating particular foods can make your urine smell odd. If your pee smells like rotten eggs, it could be due to eating a lot of asparagus, garlic, cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, onions, or red meat.
Some of these foods may cause other minor side effects. Cruciferous vegetables can cause increased gassiness, red meat can cause smellier flatulence, and garlic and onions can both cause unpleasant breath.
You don’t really need an official diagnosis for this. You can try cutting out a food you think might be the offender and see if the smell goes away.
You don’t need treatment because this isn’t really a health issue; it’s a natural consequence of digestion. But if the odor bothers you, you can cut the offending food(s) out of your diet or limit your consumption.
Common Medical Issues That Can Make Your Urine Smells Like Sulfur
There are also some common medical issues that can cause sulfur-smelling urine. Most of these are easily resolved with the help of a medical professional.
Supplements and Medications
If your urine smells like rotten eggs, medications or supplements could be the culprit. Sulfa drugs and B vitamin supplements are both common causes.
If your supplement or medication has other side effects, you may also experience those.
If you only noticed that your urine smells like sulfur after or around the time you started taking the medication or supplement, it’s probably to blame. For a prescription medication, consult with your prescribing physician as to whether your medication could be causing your smelly urine. For over the counter medications and supplements, consult with your primary care physician.
You can discuss with your doctor whether you need to stay on the medication or supplement. Depending on other side effects, you may need to adjust your dose or switch to another treatment.
Cystitis/Urinary Tract Infection
When your urine smells like sulfur, an inflamed bladder (cystitis) could be the issue. Cystitis is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection in the urinary tract (a urinary tract infection). If you have cystitis, you may notice that your urine smells like rotten eggs or otherwise unusually strong.
If you have cystitis, you may also notice that your urine is cloudy or bloody. You might also experience a burning sensation with urination, a frequent urge to urinate, and a feeling that you are unable to completely empty the bladder. Finally, you might have pain during sex, generalized pain or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis, and a low-grade fever.
Cystitis is typically diagnosed through urine analysis. In some cases, your doctor may recommend diagnostic imaging of your bladder.
Cystitis that is caused by a urinary tract infection is treated with antibiotics. Treatment for other types of cystitis primarily focuses on avoiding triggers and managing symptoms. When the infection clears and/or the inflammation in your bladder resolves, your pee should go back to normal.
Bacterial vaginosis describes an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina (as compared to the good bacteria that normally colonizes the vagina). Because BV can cause a foul-smelling discharge or smell in the vagina, women with BV may think that their urine smells like eggs or sulfur.
The primary symptom of BV is an unpleasant-smelling liquid-y, gray or whitish discharge. You might also experience itching or burning in the vagina, burning during urination, and an unpleasant fishy or rotten odor after sex and/or during menstruation.
Your doctor can diagnose BV by examining and analyzing your vaginal discharge. They may also test your vaginal PH or perform a pelvic exam.
Antibiotics can typically clear a BV infection. However, BV recurs in many women. To help avoid a recurrence, you can take precautions like using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners. Additionally, avoid practices like douching or cleaning the vagina with soaps or washes. The vagina is self-cleaning and interfering with this process can upset the balance of bacteria in the vaginal canal.
Certain sexually transmitted infections can cause a smelly discharge from the genitals. The main culprits are chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea. This discharge may be especially noticeable for women. The smell of the discharge may make it seem like your pee smells like rotten eggs.
Other typical STI symptoms include burning with urination, painful intercourse, and itching or pain around the genital area. Women may have abnormal bleeding and pelvic or abdominal pain. Men may experience pain or swelling in the testicles.
STIs are typically diagnosed with a swab of the genital area or a urine sample.
Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. When the infection clears, you should not longer have urine that smells like sulfur. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, your sexual partner(s) should also be treated so that they do not simply pass the infection (and the sulfur-smelling urine!) back to you.
An inflamed prostate gland (prostatitis) can lead to fishy-smelling or sulfur-smelling urine, especially if the inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection.
You may have a number of urination-related symptoms, including a frequent urge to urinate, difficulty urinating or completely emptying the bladder, a weak urine stream, pain or burning with urination, and cloudy or bloody urine. You may also have pain after ejaculation, pain in the lower back, penis, testicles, and/or perineum; and fever, chills, and aches (if the prostatitis is caused by a bacterial infection).
Doctors typically diagnose prostatitis through a combination of tests, potentially including urine analysis, blood tests, diagnostic imaging, and/or a digital rectal exam to feel if the prostate is swollen or tender.
Depending on what is causing your prostatitis, you may be treated with antibiotics (if the issue is a bacterial infection) or with medication to manage your symptoms (if the issue is not bacterial).
Kidney stones are small, hard crystalline deposits that form when minerals and salts stick together in the urinary tract. This usually happens when urine is highly concentrated, so there are high levels of minerals and salts in the urine. Having kidney stones in the urinary tract can cause a sulfur smell in urine.
The chief symptom of a kidney stone is intense pain in the urinary tract. This usually occurs often when the stone passes from the kidney into one of the ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder). At first, the pain will probably be localized to one side of the body, beneath the ribs. However, the pain may change in character and location as the kidney stone moves through the urinary tract. You may start to feel waves of pain, radiating pain, or a sharp and stabbing pain. In addition to the pain, you may also notice discomfort during urination, cloudy or bloody urine, a frequent need to urinate, urinating only small amounts, nausea/vomiting, and/or a fever (if the kidney stone is coupled with an infection).
The pain of a kidney stone frequently sends people to the doctor (or even the ER). Kidney stones are identified through a combination of urine testing, blood testing, and diagnostic imaging. Because a variety of things can cause kidney stones, including chronic metabolic disorders, you may be asked to urinate through a strainer so that your kidney stone can be analyzed.
If your stone is on the smaller side, you may only need to drink lots of water and take painkillers until it passes. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to relax the ureters. If you have a larger stone, you may require a medical procedure to break them up. This could be as noninvasive as sound wave therapy or as invasive as surgery.
Unusual Reasons Your Urine Smells Like Sulfur
There are a few rare potential reasons why your urine smells like sulfur. We’ll go over those here.
If you are experiencing liver disease, you may end up with abnormally high levels of bilirubin (a component of liver bile) and protein in your urine, which can cause musty, rotten, or sulfur-smelling urine.
Dark urine, almost brown in color; jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin); swollen legs, ankles and/or abdomen; unusual stool color; nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea; loss of appetite/weight loss; fatigue; disorientation and confusion; abdominal pain; bad breath, itchy skin; and easy bruising.
Doctors diagnose liver disease through a combination of blood tests and diagnostic imaging. You may undergo a liver tissue biopsy if necessary. The earlier your liver disease is diagnosed, the better your prognosis. Thus, if you have brown urine for more than several days running (one of the early signs), make a doctor’s appointment.
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your liver disease. Treatment can include lifestyle adjustments (like eliminating alcohol intake) and medications. More advanced or severe liver disease may require surgery or a liver transplant.
A gastrointestinal-bladder fistula (also called a vesicointestinal fistula or an enterovesical fistula) is an abnormal connection between the intestines and the bladder that causes gastrointestinal fluid to leak into the bladder. This is most commonly due to surgical complications but can also be due to inflammatory bowel disease, bowel cancer, or as a side effect of radiation therapy. The presence of gastrointestinal fluid in the bladder can cause urine to smell like rotting eggs or otherwise unpleasant.
You may also pass gas or feces through your urethra, suffer urinary incontinence, get frequent UTIs, experience pain with urination, and have abdominal pain.
Urine analysis can suggest the presence of a vesico-intestinal fistula. To pinpoint the location of the fistula, your doctor will likely use diagnostic imaging technology like x-ray and ultrasound.
Sometimes, small fistulas heal on their own. Otherwise, repairing a fistula requires surgery.
Hypermethioninemia (or MET) describes the buildup of the amino acid methionine in the body. This is typically due to a metabolic disorder in which the body cannot break down methionine, but it can also be a side effect of liver disease or caused by certain medications. People with hypermethioninemia may notice that their breath, sweat, and pee smells like rotten eggs or cabbage.
Other symptoms include neurological issues, developmental delays, poor motor skills, liver disease, muscle weakness, and fatigue. However, many people with MET are asymptomatic.
Babies are typically screened for hypermethioninemia a few days after birth. Otherwise, doctors can diagnose MET with a blood test.
People with MET will need to eat a restricted diet so that methionine does not build up in the body to dangerous levels. When methionine is back to normal levels, the cabbage-y or sulfur-smelling pee should go away.
When to See a Doctor if Your Pee Smells Like Sulfur
Since there are some pretty benign reasons for sulfur-smelling urine, you don’t necessarily need to rush to the doctor and say “Help! My pee smells like eggs!” However, here are two signs that you should seek medical attention:
The Smell Doesn’t Go Away
If your urine smells like sulfur for a harmless, passing reason, it should go away on its own within a day or two. This is doubly true if you make some lifestyle adjustments like drinking more water or eliminating potential culprit foods from your diet and the smell remains. A persistent smell lasting multiple days is a possible sign of an underlying issue, so make an appointment with your primary care physician to investigate.
You’re Having Other Symptoms
If you are having other symptoms in addition to your urine’s unusual smell, that’s another sign you may want to go to the doctor. Burning with urination, frequent urination, difficult urination, pain with sex, and abdominal discomfort are all symptoms of medical issues. And if you are experiencing a high fever and/or intense, severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention immediately as this could be a sign of a medical emergency.
My Urine Smells Like Sulfur! The Bottom Line
In this article, we broke down all the possible answers to, “Why does my pee smell like sulfur?”
Some common reasons that don’t typically need any medical intervention include minor dehydration, alcohol and caffeine intake, and your diet.
Some common medical issues that cause sulfur-smelling urine include supplements and medications, a UTI, bacterial vaginosis, STIs, prostatitis, and kidney stones.
Less common reasons for pee that smells like rotten eggs are liver disease, hypermethioninemia, and gastrointestinal-bladder fistula.
Do you need to go to the doctor if your urine smells like rotten eggs? Make an appointment if you are experiencing either of the following:
- The smell in your urine doesn’t go away after several days.
- You are having other symptoms.
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