It’s kind of hard not to check out the contents of the toilet bowl after you go to the bathroom, because bodily fluids are strangely fascinating. If you take a peek and your pee looks so frothy it could be on tap at your local dive bar, you might feel a little worried, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad. Here are four potential causes behind foamy pee.
1. That “foam” is actually just harmless bubbles.
It’s normal to notice tiny, clear bubbles that dissipate after a few beats when you pee, Cybele Ghossein, M.D., a nephrologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, tells SELF. “If you have a strong stream that hits the toilet, that can cause bubbling,” she says. Congrats on that powerful flow.
Foamy urine, on the other hand, will likely be white instead of clear and will stick around in your toilet after you’d expect bubbles to fade away. “It’s very different from bubbles,” Dr. Ghossein says. “It looks like foam does when you’re pouring soda or beer.”
2. You have excess protein in your pee due to something like dehydration.
This has a medical name—proteinuria—and it’s a common cause of foamy urine, S. Adam Ramin, M.D., a urologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, tells SELF. Too much protein in your urine can bind together, creating a foamy appearance, Dr. Ghossein explains.
Let’s back up a sec: Your urine is made up of waste and extra fluid, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). It comes from your kidneys, which are two bean-shaped organs located below your rib cage (one on each side of your spine). Every day, your kidneys filter up to 150 quarts of blood and make about one to two quarts of urine, the NIDDK says.
It’s normal to have low levels of protein in your urine as part of this waste process, according to the Mayo Clinic, but certain things can make it spike enough to cause foamy pee. For example, if you’re dehydrated, you might notice a foamy pee situation, Dr. Ghossein says.
That’s because your urine is more concentrated when you’re dehydrated, creating a bigger chance that the protein in it will cause foam, she explains. “It’s kind of like when you put a little bit of chocolate mix in a small glass of milk. It may look dark, but in a larger glass of milk, it would be very light,” she says. “If your urine is very concentrated, a small amount of protein may seem like a lot.”
Other factors that can allow extra protein to slip by your kidneys’ filters include stress, fever, intense exercise, and even exposure to extreme cold, according to the Mayo Clinic.
3. You have excess protein in your pee due to kidney problems.
Consistently high levels of protein in your urine are a sign that something is allowing your kidneys to leak more protein into your pee than they should. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two major causes of this, Dr. Ramin says.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can induce high blood sugar that harms blood vessels in your kidneys, making it hard for them to function properly, according to the NIDDK. As a result, too much protein might wind up in your pee. It’s a similar story with high blood pressure—the force on your blood vessels (including those in your kidneys) debilitates them over time so that they can’t do their job as well, the NIDDK explains.
There are many other health conditions that can cause frequent proteinuria, according to the Mayo Clinic, like pregnancy, preeclampsia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia.
4. You took a pain-relieving UTI medication.
The only way to actually treat a urinary tract infection is to see your doctor and get on antibiotics, the Mayo Clinic explains. But there are medications meant to relieve UTI symptoms while the infection clears, such as Azo, which contains the active ingredient phenazopyridine hydrochloride. Although phenazopyridine hydrochloride is most famous for causing orange pee, some people also report foamy urine, Dr. Ramin says, adding that this seems to be a chemical reaction that happens when the drug mixes with water.
If you see some foamy pee in the toilet bowl, you don’t immediately need to go to the doctor. First, see if it’s a fluke.
To make sure it’s not what Dr. Ramin calls a “false signal,” drink plenty of water so that you’re hydrated, then see if you’re still experiencing foamy pee. Ask yourself if there’s anything else that could be causing foamy pee, like being under a ton of stress, just wrapping up an intense workout, or being pregnant. Also ask yourself if you have any health conditions that you know can cause foamy pee and might not be as under control as possible, like diabetes.
If you think your foamy pee is a sign that something could really be off with your kidneys, see your doctor. They will likely do a physical exam and run blood and urine tests to try to figure out what’s going on, Dr. Ghossein says. They may also do an imaging test like an ultrasound to try to see how your kidneys are doing.
Once your doctor is able to determine what’s behind your foamy urine, they should be able to help treat it. If it turns out your foamy pee is really nothing to be concerned about, consider yourself in the clear.