What causes cloudy urine?

26th November, 2021 • 7 min read
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Why is my pee cloudy?

Urine should normally be a clear or pale yellow colour. The colour can vary from day to day depending on how hydrated you are, but it should not be cloudy, milky in colour or discoloured. There are a number of reasons why your urine might be cloudy when you pee or why it might smell. Most of these reasons are relatively harmless. For example, it may be a sign that you’re not drinking enough water, which means you may be dehydrated. Other reasons may include urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney stones and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

What causes cloudy urine in men and women?

Urinary tract infections

UTIs
develop when germs (bacteria) make their way into any part of your urinary system, which includes the kidneys, bladder and urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside of the body). The bacteria that cause infection, along with the white blood cells made by your body to fight infection off, mean that UTIs can cause cloudy or discoloured urine. They can also create a frequent need to pee (even if you’re only passing small amounts of urine) and pain or burning when you pee. Women tend to get more UTIs than men because the tube from their bladder (urethra) is shorter, making it easier for germs to travel.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones
are hard crystals that form in the kidneys from minerals and salt in your urine. They vary in size from tiny to large. They pose few problems if they’re small, but if they are large and travel out of the kidneys and towards the bladder, they can cause severe pain. If you have a kidney stone that blocks the tube that runs from your kidney to your bladder (ureter), it can cause a kidney infection and produce cloudy or blood stained urine. Kidney stones can also cause vomiting and a high temperature.

Sexually transmitted infections

STIs
are infections that
you can catch from your partner during sex
. They include
gonorrhoea
or
chlamydia
, and white cells produced as a result of these infections can turn the urine cloudy. Other symptoms include a coloured discharge from the penis or vagina, pain when you pee and itching around the genitals.

Diabetes

If you have

diabetes
you may be more likely to experience cloudy urine. This could happen for several reasons. For example, you're more likely to become
dehydrated
or to experience urine infections. Diabetes can also cause kidney damage, which stops urine from being filtered efficiently. This can cause urine to look frothy or foamy. Early on, however, most diabetes-related kidney problems don't cause any symptoms. As a result, your doctor may regularly test your urine for protein. Other symptoms of diabetes include feeling tired, thirsty, peeing a lot, having blurred vision and tingling in the hands and feet.

What foods cause cloudy urine?

Eating large amounts of meat or dairy products can cause urine to appear cloudy or milky due to an increase in calcium or phosphate levels in some foods. High levels of Vitamin D can also make urine appear cloudy.

Other causes of cloudy urine

Inflammation of the vagina
(vaginitis) that comes from
yeast infections
can result in cloudy urine. Some
prostate problems
can also cause cloudy urine. These can include
retrograde ejaculation
, where semen travels into the bladder after an orgasm rather than into the penis and out of the body.

When to see a doctor if you have cloudy urine

You should call an ambulance or go to your local emergency department if you have cloudy urine and:

  • severe pain in your abdomen or side – this could be a sign of a kidney stones, infection or
    appendicitis
  • you have diabetes and symptoms of tummy pain, breath that smells like pear drop sweets or nail varnish, deep or fast breathing, feeling very tired or sleepy or being confused - these can all be signs of
    diabetic ketoacidosis
    which is a medical emergency
  • you’re unable to pee, along with severe pain and swelling in your lower tummy, and you feel you want to pee urgently. These are all signs of urine retention.
  • are feeling dizzy or faint, become confused, are peeing less than normal, have slurred speech, muscle pain and are short of breath - this can suggest
    sepsis
  • a fever, pain in your back, side, or groin, nausea and vomiting, and frequent, painful peeing. This can be a sign of
    pyelonephritis

You should also see a doctor urgently if you have cloudy urine as well as:

  • weight loss
  • blood in your pee
  • vomiting
  • difficulty in peeing

Always see a doctor routinely if you have symptoms of cloudy urine with:

  • a discharge from the vagina or penis
  • feeling generally unwell
  • feeling sick
  • generalised aches and pains

What’s the treatment for cloudy urine?

Always make sure you drink enough fluid each day. Most adults should drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily. Water is the best choice, but other fluids like milk, tea and coffee count as well (though bear in mind that alcohol and caffeine can have a mild dehydrating effect). Drink more fluids in hot weather, and if you’re exercising or sweating. If this doesn’t clear cloudy urine, the treatment then depends on the cause.

UTIs are usually treated with

antibiotics
. Always make sure you finish the entire course so that all bacteria in the urine gets killed.

Kidney stones often pass out of the body by themselves, although this can often be painful. If a stone is too big to pass out by itself, it can be broken up without surgery by using a special shockwave treatment called lithotripsy or, occasionally, by surgery.
Medication for STIs depends on the type of infection.

The most common form of diabetes –

called type 2 diabetes
– is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes (such as losing weight) and medication.
Type 1 diabetes
requires a lifelong treatment plan.

What’s the outlook with cloudy urine?

If you have a UTI, this normally clears away quickly after one course of

antibiotic
treatment, although an extra or longer course is sometimes required to treat more severe infections. Drinking plenty of fluids every day is recommended for the prevention of kidney stones, while other measures (such as dietary reviews) depend on what type of stones are being formed. STIs should be treated as early as possible. If left untreated, they can lead to problems such as chronic pain and infertility. Diabetes can be well controlled with a combination of diet, exercise and medication, although lifelong monitoring is required.

Your health questions answered

  • Can urine be cloudy without an infection?

    Answered by:Dr Roger Henderson

    Yes. Diet, prostate problems and diabetes are just some of the reasons urine can be cloudy even if you don’t have an infection. Most urinary tract infections are accompanied by the need to pee very frequently, along with discomfort when passing urine. Symptoms of a kidney infection usually develop quite quickly over a few hours or days.

  • Does dehydration cause cloudy urine?

    Answered by:Dr Roger Henderson

    Not having enough water in your body (dehydration) may make your urine appear very concentrated – it may seem dark in colour or even appear cloudy. But even when you’re dehydrated, your urine should still be clear. If you think it’s cloudy, especially if it’s not getting clearer when you drink more fluids, it’s best to have it checked by a doctor.

Key takeaways

  • urine should normally be clear or a pale yellow colour
  • there are many possible causes of cloudy urine, with dehydration being the most common
  • if cloudy urine doesn’t disappear after a few days of drinking more water, speak to your doctor
  • seek medical advice urgently if you have severe pain, a high temperature, vomiting or blood in the urine
  • most causes of cloudy urine are easily treated

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.