Urine smells like sulfur: 11 causes and treatment

There are many different causes of foul-smelling urine, and most are no cause for concern.

Getting rid of the sulfur smell in the urine involves treating the underlying cause, and there are times when a visit to the doctor may be necessary. In this article, we examine 11 possible causes of urine smelling like sulfur and explain how to treat each of them.


Here are 11 different reasons why urine can smell like sulfur. These range from common causes that people can treat easily to less frequent causes that require treatment.

1. Specific foods

Food is one of the factors most likely to change the smell of urine. Eating specific foods, including the following, can cause a sulfuric smell in the urine:

  • asparagus
  • fish
  • onion
  • garlic

The digestion of these foods often creates sulfur-like compounds that exit the body in the urine. This causes the distinct smell that can appear after eating. The smell is temporary, and the urine should smell normal again once the digestion process is complete.

Drinking extra water may help to dilute the odor, but avoiding these foods is the only way to completely prevent the smell as it is just a natural part of the digestive process.

2. Medications

Some medications or supplements may also be responsible for changing the urine’s odor. These include sulfa drugs, which treat diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions, and some supplements, such as B vitamins.

Drinking more water may help to dilute the sulfur compounds in the body and reduce the smell. If the problem continues or worsens, it may be best to talk to a doctor about switching medications.

3. Dehydration

Urine consists of water extracted from foods, together with chemicals and toxins that the body filters and releases.

When the body is not sufficiently hydrated, the urine becomes concentrated. This can give it a darker yellow or orange color, and often makes its smell quite potent.

If there are any sulfuric compounds in the body, dehydration may make them much more noticeable in the urine.

People should drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially after physical exercise.

It may also help to avoid diuretic drinks such as coffee, tea, or alcohol, as they can make the body urinate more and decrease fluid levels further.

Inflammation in the bladder, known as cystitis, typically results from a buildup of bacteria. This may be due to a UTI or even to dysbiosis, where harmful bacteria increase in number and take over the good bacteria in the body.

The excess bacteria may change the smell or look of the urine as it sits in the bladder, which can lead to a sulfuric smell.

Cystitis needs prompt medical treatment. Antibiotics may help to get rid of bacterial infections, and drinking extra water and other liquids, such as cranberry juice or herbal tea, may help to dilute the smell.

Hypermethioninemia occurs when there is an excess of the amino acid methionine in the blood.

This can occur if someone eats a lot of foods that contain methionine, or if the body does not break the amino acid down properly.

Many people with hypermethioninemia have no symptoms, but others may find that they have trouble standing or walking or that they experience nerve problems.

The breath, sweat, or urine of someone with hypermethioninemia may also become sulfuric.

Treatment includes introducing diet or lifestyle changes to balance methionine levels.

11. Gastrointestinal fistulas

Gastrointestinal fistulas are abnormal openings in the digestive tract that lead to other areas in the body, such as the bladder. They can cause gastric juices and other fluids to leak from the intestines into the bladder.

Leaking gastric juices may cause internal infections and can lead to recurrent UTIs that, in turn, could cause urine to smell like sulfur.

Gastrointestinal fistulas occur most commonly after abdominal surgery or in people with chronic digestive problems.

Treatment for a fistula depends on how large it is and how much gastric fluid is seeping through the opening.

Some fistulas may close on their own over time, while others may require surgery and regular monitoring to prevent severe conditions, such as sepsis.

When to see a doctor

Urine smelling of sulfur is usually a temporary symptom that goes away after a few trips to the bathroom. However, people should visit a doctor if the smell remains after a few days, or if they also have any of the following symptoms:

  • cloudy urine
  • milky streaks in the urine
  • bloody urine
  • pain or difficulty urinating
  • pain in the back, pelvis, or abdomen

These signs indicate an infection or another internal issue that needs prompt medical treatment to avoid severe complications.

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