Dark Urine: What Does It Mean? Causes and Treatments

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Dark Urine: What Does It Mean? Causes and Treatments

Passing dark urine that is dark yellow or dark brown could mean something as simple as being dehydrated, or it could be as serious as a problem with your liver. In other cases, dark colored urine that is brown, orange, tea colored or even black can be caused by certain foods, medications, a urinary tract infection, or other health issues. In most cases, there is nothing to worry about if you have noticed that your pee has turned a darker color.

When urine becomes very dark for a few days, you may need to see a doctor to get some tests done. Usually, extremely dark urine caused by a liver problem or gallbladder issue will cause other symptoms. These could include sudden upper right abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin, and a fever.

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In many cases, treating the symptoms of passing dark pee involves drinking more fluids to dilute the concentration of organic compounds in urine. In more serious cases, doctors will treat the underlying medical issue to resolve the problem of passing deep amber or brown colored urine.

The Color of Healthy Urine

Healthy urine looks like a light pale straw-colored liquid to a golden color. The typical yellow color of urine comes from a pigment (urochrome) found in urine. Differences in the shades of yellow range from very light yellow to amber depending on the concentration of urochrome.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, there is a lot you can tell about your health from the color of urine. For example, dark yellow urine may be an indicator that you are not drinking enough fluids. However, if you are drinking too much water or have an electrolyte imbalance, you can have a clear or transparent urine that looks like water.1

Very often, your first pee in the morning will produce urine that is darker than normal because it is more concentrated. This type of dark, gold-colored urine in the morning is usually perfectly normal. This is especially true if your urine throughout the day is pale yellow.

What Does Dark Urine Mean?

According to Dr. Khatri, the most common reason for passing dark yellow, brown or tea-colored urine is dehydration. This type of dark urine means that you need to drink more fluids immediately to prevent any complications of dehydration.

However there are many other reasons for passing discolored urine that is a dark brown, orange or even rusty red. For example, dark brown urine could also mean that you have blockages in your biliary system.2

Sometimes light pink urine could be because of eating beets. However, dark red urine could mean that there is blood in your urine caused by a urinary tract infection or kidney problem. The presence of blood in urine that makes urine pink, very red, or black is often referred to as hematuria.

Symptoms of Dark Urine

Occasionally noticing symptoms of passing light brown pee or dark yellow urine is nothing to worry about and indicates higher concentration of your urine. However, if an underlying medical condition is to blame for extremely dark urine, you may have any of the following symptoms:

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To diagnose the underlying condition, your doctor will probably arrange for you to give a urine test to check for unusual particles in urine.

Dark Urine Causes

Let’s look in more detail at the most common reasons for what it means if your urine is dark.

Dehydration can cause dark yellow urine

When your pee is very dark yellow, it doesn’t always mean that you are suffering from a liver or kidney problem. Urine that is unusually dark could be a sign that you have to drink more water.

According to the European Journal of Nutrition, the color of your urine is a good indicator of how much water you consume. Research has shown that, in healthy people, increasing the daily water intake results in passing urine that is noticeably lighter.2

Even though dark pee that is the result of dehydration isn’t in itself a serious medical condition, dehydration can cause serious complications. Researchers say that not drinking enough fluids daily can increase your risk of kidney stones, chronic kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes.2

Drinking more water daily is usually all you have to do to treat dark urine that has been caused by dehydration.

Eating certain foods can turn urine dark brown

Some foods can turn your pee a darker color than normal and can even turn your urine dark brown.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic report that foods like fava beans, blackberries, beets, and rhubarb can color urine from light pink to dark brown. If you consume foods that have added color dyes, you may notice that the next morning your pee is a dark orange or brown color.3

There is nothing to worry about if certain foods have turned your pee a dark yellow color. When you change your diet or stop eating those foods, your urine should return to a healthy light-yellow color.

Side effect of medication can cause dark brown urine

Some drugs and multivitamins can turn your urine dark because of how they interact with compounds in your pee.

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For example, according to urologist Dr. Bradley C. Gill, dark-colored urine is sometimes the result of regularly taking multivitamins. These can cause your pee to become darker than normal because of pigments in the supplements.4

Research published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal reports that some antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can turn pee various dark colors. For example, some antibacterial drugs for parasite infections can turn urine dark brown. Other antibiotics can make urine appear dark orange and foamy. Or, dark green pee can result from certain drugs.5

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency that can affect the function of your kidneys and cause rust-colored urine.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that heatstroke is caused by being exposed to long periods of high temperatures. The first symptoms of heatstroke are a high body temperature of over 104 °F (40 °C), rapid breathing, and confusion. The rise in body temperature can also cause organ swelling which may result in permanent damage.6

To test for symptoms of heatstroke, doctors will usually take a urine test to see if the urine is dark due to kidney problems.

If a person shows any signs of heatstroke, it’s important to seek emergency medical care. Until paramedics arrive, it’s important to keep the person cool by sponging with cool water or placing wet towels on the head, armpits, and groin.7

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Passing dark urine that looks tea-colored or rusty red along with a burning sensation could mean that you have a urinary tract infection.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine say that bacterial infections in your urinary system can affect your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis), or kidneys (pyelonephritis). The bacterial infection in your urinary tract will usually cause dark, cloudy urine. You may also notice that urine is a pink to red color if there is blood in it.8

Other symptoms of a UTI can include:

  • Pain when passing urine
  • Irresistible urge to “go” often but then only being able to pass a little amount of pee
  • Urine that gives off a distinctly bad odor
  • Lower abdominal cramping in the pelvic area
  • Constant fatigue

To help quickly treat the symptoms a mild UTI, it’s important to act quickly. One of the best natural treatments for a UTI is D-mannose. You can also regularly take probiotics to help improve good bacteria in your body to prevent recurring UTIs. For other natural treatments please refer to my article on how to treat urinary tract infection.

Gallbladder stones

Gallbladder stones can cause excruciating right upper abdominal pain and cause you to pee extremely dark urine.

Gallbladder stones are a very painful condition of the biliary system. The stones form from hardened buildups of cholesterol in the digestive bile fluid. Researchers in the journal BMJ report that if gallstones move they can block the bile duct. This causes pigment from bile (bilirubin) to leak into the urine causing it to become very dark.9

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Apart from making you pass dark brown pee, gallstones can also cause the following symptoms:

You can use diluted apple cider vinegar to help dissolve the cholesterol buildup and get rid of gallstones naturally. Most doctors recommend sticking to a healthy diet that includes plenty of fiber to prevent gallstones from forming.

Liver problems

There are various liver problems that can cause you to pass very dark yellow urine that may even look dark brown. The reasons for peeing dark urine that is caused by liver dysfunction are usually the same. The journal BMJ explains that liver disease causes bilirubin to leak into the urinary system and turn urine dark brown.10

Common liver diseases can include:

  • Cirrhosis. Scarring of the liver because of hepatitis or chronic alcoholism can cause extensive damage to the liver. Jaundice, passing dark urine, and bruising easily are just some of the symptoms of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can also cause right upper abdominal pain where the liver is located.11
  • Liver cancer. Some of the symptoms of liver cancer can include jaundice and dark urine.
  • Jaundice. Dr. Steven K. Herrine, a gastroenterologist, reports that many people who have yellowing of the skin also pass tea-colored urine and light gray stool.12
  • Hepatitis. According to Dr. Minesh Khatri on WebMD, chronic hepatitis can cause very dark yellow urine and jaundice.13

To help look after the health of your liver, it’s important to drink enough fluids daily, cut down on excessive alcohol use, and get enough sleep.

Anemia

A type of anemia called hemolytic anemia can cause the early destruction of red blood cells and cause your pee to look rusty-brown.

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According to Dr. Paul Schick who is a member of the American Society of Hematology, the reason for anemia causing your pee to look like tea is that hemoglobin gets broken down and is excreted in urine. Hemolytic anemia can also cause weakness, poor heart function, and many of the classic signs of an iron deficiency.14

It’s important to make sure that you get enough iron and vitamin B12 in your diet to prevent anemia.

Other Reasons for Passing Dark or Brown Urine

There are some other, less common, reasons why you could pass really dark urine.

Biliary duct obstruction. An obstruction in your bile ducts caused by gallstones or a reduction in bile flow (cholestasis) could turn your pee a dark amber color. You may also feel sudden, sharp pains under your right ribs.14

Sexually transmitted disease (STD). Sexually transmitted infections that affect the liver will cause you to have dark-colored pee. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are highly infectious diseases that can affect the liver.15

Sickle cell anemia. The blood disorder sickle cell anemia can cause reddish-brown urine if it affects the kidneys. Dr. William C. Shiel on MedicineNet says that sickle cell anemia can cause blood in urine (hematuria).16

Mononucleosis. Mononucleosis (mono) usually just results in fatigue, a sore throat, and swollen glands. However, the Encyclopaedia Britannica says that in severe cases of mono, a person may have hematuria – the presence of blood in urine.

Kidney problems. Doctors on PubMed Health say that very dark urine could be a sign of kidney dysfunction.18

Pancreatic cancer. One of the signs that pancreatic cancer has spread to the liver is dark urine and jaundice. This will also cause pale stools, extreme weakness, upper abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss.19

Rhabdomyolysis. This is a medical emergency condition due to severe muscle injury which can lead to kidney failure. Doctors on WebMD say that the classic symptoms of rhabdomyolysis are often hard to pinpoint but can include muscle pain, muscle weakness, and dark red or brown urine.22

Porphyria. A group of diseases that affect your skin or the nervous system. Doctors on MayoClinic say that symptoms of porphyria can vary widely and can include severe abdominal pain, chest pain, red or brown urine, breathing problems and mental changes.23

What Causes Dark Urine in the Morning?

It is very common for your urine to appear darker in the morning because your urine is more concentrated. A lack of fluids during the night and possibly slight dehydration will make your first pee in the morning a darker yellow color. If you drink enough water throughout the day, your urine should become a pale-yellow color.

Flushing your urinary system in the morning is one reason to start the day with a glass of water. Doctors also recommend that the best time to get accurate results from a pregnancy test is to take it first thing in the morning.

What Causes Dark Urine in Pregnancy?

If you are pregnant, you might find that your pee is a darker yellow color than normal. For many women, dark urine during pregnancy just means that they need to drink more water.

According to doctors from the American Pregnancy Association, you need to increase your water intake if you are pregnant. Adequate hydration during pregnancy helps to keep your important bodily functions healthy. It also assists in the development of your baby. A clear sign of dehydration during pregnancy is passing dark yellow pee.

So, always drink enough fluids while you are pregnant so that your urine is always a pale straw color. Doctors recommend drinking between 8 and 12 glasses of water a day. It’s good to remember that caffeine can increase urine output and lead to dehydration.20

What Causes Black Urine?

While urine can become extremely dark due to extreme hydration, kidney problems, or liver disease, it is very rare to pass black urine.

Alkaptonuria

According to doctors from the National Health Service, a rare inherited disorder called alkaptonuria causes urine to be black.21

In fact, this is sometimes referred to as “black urine disease.” The first signs of alkaptonuria may develop in people who are in their 20s or 30s. As well as peeing black tainted urine, gray spots in the eyes may start to appear, and ears may turn a bluish-black color.

When to See a Doctor

Normal urine is a light yellow to golden color, and as long as your urine becomes lighter when you drink more fluids, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

However, if you persistently pass dark urine or your urine turns another color other than various shades of yellow, you may need to see a doctor.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend seeking medical care in the following circumstances:1

  • You notice signs of blood in your urine that may or may not be accompanied by pain.
  • You have symptoms of a urinary tract infection like passing cloudy dark urine.
  • Your urine turns a deep amber or you pass orange urine, as this may be a sign of liver dysfunction.
  • Dark colored urine is accompanied by nausea, fever, or cramping pain in your side or back.

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