Painful urination is a problem that many men and women experience. And if you have it, you most likely want to get rid of it – right away.

There are many possible causes for painful urination, but it’s usually caused by something that’s highly treatable like a urinary tract infection (UTI). Still, some of the causes can be serious, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to get a diagnosis and the proper treatment.

Read on to learn about what can cause discomfort when you pee and how to stop the burning sensation.

What is painful urination?

The medical term for painful urination is dysuria. Painful urination is most common in women, but everyone can experience painful urination regardless of age or gender.

Most of the time, painful urination is caused by irritation or inflammation of your urinary system, reproductive organs or genitals. That’s why symptoms and causes can be different for men and women.

How painful urination symptoms can provide clues into possible causes

If you have dysuria, you may feel burning, stinging, itching or discomfort when you pee. You may also experience frequent urination, meaning you need to go to the bathroom a lot.

There are many causes of painful urination and each comes with unique symptoms. But when the pain occurs can also be a clue as to what’s causing the problem.

For example, if you feel burning or stinging when you start to pee, it’s often a sign of an infection. If it hurts when you’re almost done peeing or afterward, it can be a sign that something’s wrong with your bladder. If you’re able to tell your doctor when the pain starts, it will be easier for them to determine the cause of your symptoms and get you started on treatment.

Common causes of discomfort when urinating

The following are causes of painful urination for both men and women. Later on, we’ll cover causes that are specific to each gender.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common cause of painful urination. Infections can happen at different places in the urinary system, including your kidneys, urethra and bladder.

Both men and women can get UTIs, but they are more common in women. UTIs are usually caused by bacteria in your urinary tract that get into your body through the urethra.

The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. In women, this tube is very short – about 1.5 inches. In men, it goes from the bladder to the end of the penis. Since a female urethra is shorter than a male urethra, bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to get into the bladder and other parts of the urinary system.

Besides painful urination, other UTI symptoms include blood-tinged, cloudy or strong-smelling pee; fever, pain in your stomach or back, and the need to pee more often or with more urgency. But if cloudy, foul-smelling urine is your only symptom, it’s probably something other than a UTI.

Most of the time, a UTI will go away quickly when you take a prescription antibiotic or antiviral medications. And since UTIs are so common, you can often get treatment virtually. But without treatment, they can get worse and can cause more serious symptoms.

Diabetes and UTIs

People with diabetes are more likely to have more severe UTIs that affect their urethras, bladders and kidneys. Plus, these UTIs can be caused by bacteria that are more resistant to treatments. But managing blood sugar levels can help prevent UTIs. If you need help managing your diabetes, talk with your endocrinologist.

Sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are another cause of painful urination. STIs pass between people through vaginal, oral or anal sex. Some STIs can irritate the urinary system, causing UTIs.

So, which STIs or STDs cause painful urination? There are a few of them, including genital herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis.

If an STI is the cause of painful urination, you may have discharge from your genitals, have blister-like sores or feel itchy down there. Without treatment, STIs get worse and can sometimes lead to infertility or other serious problems. So if you think you have an STI, it’s important to get treatment right away.

Chemical sensitivity

What you put on your skin always matters, but it’s especially true for the tissues in your genital area. Douches, soaps, scented toilet paper, contraceptive sponges, spermicides and other personal care products can irritate sensitive genital tissues.

For women specifically, these products can also throw off the pH balance of the vagina. The result can be painful urination, swelling, redness and itching, as well as an increased chance of getting a UTI.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are pretty common – about 1 in 10 people will have one in their lifetime. They happen when salt and other minerals collect inside your kidneys and clump together, forming hard deposits called kidney stones. Kidney stones often come out on their own. But it’s possible that you might need surgery to remove one, especially if it gets stuck in your urinary system and leads to a UTI.

Painful urination is one of the symptoms of kidney stones that need medical treatment. Other symptoms include a sharp, cramping pain in your back or side, blood in your urine and frequent urination.

Bladder stones

Bladder stones are similar to kidney stones, but they form in the bladder instead of the kidneys and are way less common. Bladder stones are most common in men over the age of 50, but other people get them too.

Bladder stones are formed from minerals that can build up in your bladder if you’re unable to completely empty your bladder when you pee. Bladder stones can irritate the bladder and block the urine stream. If they do, they may cause pain when urinating and change urine color. If they’re small enough, drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day may be enough to get them to come out. If they’re larger or are causing bothersome symptoms, your doctor can perform surgery to remove them.

Narrowing of your urethra

It may be painful to pee because your urethra has become narrower, making it harder for the urine to leave your body. This condition, called urethral stricture, is usually the result of scarring and is more common in men than women.

Medical causes of urethral scarring include trauma to the area, prostate problems and certain types of cancer. It can also happen after radiation therapy or medical procedures where a tube or device is inserted into your urethra.

If a urethral stricture is the cause of your painful urination, it’s likely that you’ll also have a slower urine stream, spray when you urinate or feel like you can’t completely empty your bladder. Treatment will depend on where the narrowing occurs but can include urethral stretching and surgery.

Diverticulitis

Some people have small pouches called diverticula in the weakened parts of their large intestines – about 50% of adults do by age 50, according to research. These pouches don’t usually cause any symptoms but if they become inflamed, it leads to a condition called diverticulitis.

If you have diverticulitis, it can be painful to pee. Other symptoms include constant pain in the abdomen (usually on the left side), fever, nausea and rectal bleeding. This condition is often treatment with antibiotics or over-the-counter pain medications.

Surgery or medical treatments

Surgery to the pelvic region and medical treatments such as radiation can irritate the urinary system and may cause painful urination. Most of the time, your urinary system and peeing habits will return to normal as you heal. But if they don’t, talk to your doctor.

Medications

Painful urination can be a side effect of certain medications, such as chemotherapy. If painful urination started after taking a new medication, check the label to see if dysuria is a side effect.

If you’re a HealthPartners patient or member, you can contact the nurse line at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859 if you have questions.

Bladder cancer

It’s rare for cancer to be the cause of painful urination. However, changes in urination can be a symptom of bladder cancer – up to 30% of people have urination problems before being diagnosed.

Bladder cancer is usually found in early stages when the cancer is most treatable. Bladder cancer symptoms can be similar to UTI symptoms and include painful urination, frequent urination, blood in urine, and back or pelvic pain.

Other reasons for painful urination in women

The following are additional reasons for painful urination that are specific to female sex organs.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy changes a person’s body significantly and can make painful urination more likely. The growing baby can put pressure on pelvic floor organs, which include the bladder. So, if you’re pregnant, this can make it difficult for you to empty your bladder or make it feel like you need to pee more often.

But painful urination can be caused by common pregnancy complications like UTIs. So, it’s especially important to see a doctor for painful urination since untreated infections can affect your pregnancy.

Vaginal inflammation (vaginitis)

Symptoms of vaginitis include discharge, itching and pain. It’s most often caused by an infection. But it can also be caused by skin conditions and hormonal changes that happen during menopause. So yes, low estrogen can cause painful urination.

Types of vaginitis include:

  • Yeast infection – Usually from Candida albicans, a naturally occurring fungus. Treatment is an antifungal medication.
  • Bacterial vaginosis – A common condition caused by an overgrowth of your normal vaginal bacteria. Medical treatment helps restore the balance, prevents UTIs and makes it less painful to pee.
  • Trichomoniasis – Trichomoniasis is a parasite that’s spread through sexual intercourse. It’s treated with oral antibiotics.

Vaginal tears, cuts or scrapes

It can also be painful to pee if vaginal tissues are cut, scraped or torn. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the injury.

Minor cuts and scrapes

Minor cuts and scrapes can be caused by activities such as sexual intercourse, foreplay, shaving – sometimes uncomfortable underwear is all it takes. Hormone imbalances and skin conditions like eczema can also be the cause.

Minor cuts and scrapes often heal on their own if the area is kept clean. But you should be on the lookout for inflammation and infection (using a handheld mirror can help). If you see pus or things get worse instead of better, make a doctor’s appointment.

Vaginal tears and deeper cuts

You may have a vaginal tear if you’ve recently given birth – it’s estimated that 9 out of 10 vaginal deliveries lead to a tear or graze. Your doctor will explain how to care for any tear as part of their after-birth instructions.

Vaginal tears and other trauma can also happen as a result of sexual assault. If you’ve been the victim of an assault or forced sexual activity, it’s important to reach out for support and medical help. If you need someone to talk to, you can call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk to someone at the National Sexual Assault (RAINN) Hotline. Your doctor can also be someone you can talk to.

Endometritis

Endometritis is irritation or inflammation of the lining of the uterus that’s caused by infection. Endometritis can follow childbirth, miscarriage or a pelvic procedure. It can also be caused by a STI or tuberculosis. If you have endometritis, you may also have abdominal swelling, vaginal bleeding or discharge, or constipation.

Other reasons for painful urination in men

The prostate gland can be one of the main reasons it burns when a man pees. The gland is about the size of a walnut and is located just below the bladder, and surrounds the top of the urethra.

Prostatitis

If you have prostatitis, it means that your prostate is swollen and inflamed. This condition can make it difficult and painful for urine to travel down the urethra and out of the body. Prostatitis can also cause pain in your groin, pelvic area and genitals. Bacterial infections are often the cause of prostatitis, but sometimes there can be prostatitis without a sign of infection.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer can be a cause of painful urination. But prostate cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms in the early stages, so it’s important to get routine prostate cancer screenings. Routine screening is how most prostate cancer is found. Catching cancer early is best because that’s when it’s most treatable.

How to stop the painful or burning sensation while urinating

If it hurts to pee, you should make a primary care appointment or start an online appointment. Most causes of painful urination require a doctor’s care – often a prescription for antibiotics. Still, there are some things you can do right away to help with your symptoms.

Stay hydrated

If you have an infection, drinking a lot of water can help flush the bacteria from your system. Getting enough to drink can also prevent UTIs from coming back. And if the burning urine sensation is caused by something you ate, drinking lots of water will dilute your urine so peeing is less painful.

Medications

There are medications that can make it less painful to urinate, and you’ll need a separate medication to treat the cause of your painful urination.

Over-the-counter medications that contain phenazopyridine (Azo is a popular choice) may help reduce pain and burning when you pee. But keep in mind that phenazopyridine medications won't treat the condition that’s causing painful urination. So, you’ll still want to talk with your doctor about the best treatment for your condition.

If you have a UTI or STI, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. If your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you could try antifungal topical creams and gels that you buy at the store.

Warm compress or spray

If your symptoms are caused by vaginal skin irritation, cuts or tears, try using a spray bottle to spritz the vagina with warm water while urinating. Using a warm compress or sitting in a shallow bath of water can help too.

Skip the fragrances

Your vagina can be cleaned with plain water. But if you want to use soap, make sure to find a pH-balanced cleanser without dyes and perfumes. Going forward, skip douching and feminine sprays since they contain ingredients that can irritate the sensitive skin down there.

Don’t hold it

Painful urination often comes with the need to go often. Even though it’s a pain to keep running to the bathroom, don’t hold it. Skipping bathroom breaks can make your symptoms worse, especially if the cause is an infection. If you have bacteria in your urine, holding it in gives the bacteria time to multiply in your bladder and potentially move up your urinary system and into the kidneys.

When to see a doctor about painful urination

It should never be painful to pee. Most of the time, stinging, burning or discomfort when peeing is caused by conditions that are easily treatable. It is especially important to see a doctor if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Notice unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Have a fever
  • Feel pain in the back or side of your body
  • See blood in your urine or semen