Q: Is urine with an ammonia smell a problem?

A: Urine smells different depending on what you eat, so your diet can influence the smell. The pH of the body fluids has to be carefully regulated in the range 7.35 to 7.45, since deviations outside this range affects normal functioning of cells and body systems. One of the ways the kidneys have of excreting excess acid in the body fluids is to excrete ammonia (or rather, the ammonium ion: NH4+) in the urine. Exposed to air, the ammonium ions in urine change back to ammonia and produce the distinctive smell.

The source of the excess acid could be from the diet, for example, acidic foods such as citrus fruits, vinegar, and so on, or as a result of heavy exercise. This may be enough to produce transient rises in ammonium content of the urine. An infection of the urinary tract can produce urine with a strong ammonia smell as many of the pathogens (commonly gram-negative bacilli found in the gastrointestinal tract) are urea-splitting organisms. If the ammonia smell becomes noticeable over longer periods, then it is important to seek a medical opinion.

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