Pain when urinating

Pain or discomfort when urinating, also called dysuria, is an extremely common problem that affects both sexes but is more common in women. However, as men get older their risk increases. Pain may come from your bladder, urethra (the tube through which urine leaves your body) or perineum (a region in the lower part of your pelvis, between your thighs).

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

Summary

Pain when urinating (dysuria) has a wide range of possible causes, ranging from minor to potentially serious. It usually affects the bladder and/or surrounding tissues, causing symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to a stinging or burning sensation, or severe pain. As with any unexplained and persistent symptoms, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor.

Causes of pain when urinating

There are many possible causes of pain when urinating.

Irritation

  • A poorly fitting contraceptive device
  • Chemicals in products, such as perfumed soaps, toiletries, lubricants, condoms and feminine hygiene products
  • Side effects from some drugs

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs are the most common cause of pain when urinating and are usually caused by bacteria travelling from the urethra up into the rest of your urinary tract. This is why UTIs are more common in women as the urethra is shorter than in men — bacteria, therefore, have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder.

Infection can take hold in any part of the urinary tract, such as the bladder, but also your kidneys, ureter (the tube that carries urine from your kidneys to your bladder) and urethra.

UTI symptoms include:

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause pain when urinating, such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and genital herpes. However, STIs don't always cause symptoms, which is why sexual health testing is so important if you are sexually active. 

Other infections

  • Non-sexual infections affecting your genitals, such as thrush (candida) in both sexes, or bacterial vaginosis in women
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, a bacterial infection in women, which also causes pain in your lower abdomen

Inflammation

  • Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome — a painful inflammation of the bladder that isn’t caused by an infection
  • Prostatitis — inflammation of the prostate gland

Other problems

  • An enlarged prostate gland — this can prevent proper emptying of your bladder, causing pain or discomfort when urinating
  • Bladder stones — these can form if you have problems emptying your bladder properly
  • Cancer of the bladder or urethra
  • Hormonal changes at menopause — this causes dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue, which leads to a stinging or burning sensation when urinating
  • Kidney stones — these can get stuck in your kidney or ureter, causing an obstruction or infection

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Getting a diagnosis for pain when passing urine

Your doctor will probably:

  • Ask you questions about any symptoms you may have and your medical history
  • Perform a physical examination of your abdomen and pelvic area, including the prostate gland for men
  • Take a urine sample to detect infections and inflammation, which will enable your doctor to recommend specific treatment

Other possible tests include:

  • A cystoscopy — a thin, flexible tube is inserted through your urethra and into your bladder to look inside and check for potential causes of pain
  • An ultrasound scan or X-ray to detect blockages such as kidney stones or abnormal growths
  • Tests for STIs, if relevant
  • Vaginal swabs to test for infections

Treatments for pain when urinating

The treatment you receive will depend on the cause of your pain when urinating. 

Lifestyle changes

Avoiding potential irritants in products such as perfumed soaps, toiletries, lubricants, condoms and feminine hygiene products can help. Your GP may also recommend changing prescription medication if the cause is a side effect of a particular drug.

Medications

  • Antibiotics for UTIs, certain bacterial infections or certain STIs
  • Antifungal cream or pessaries for thrush
  • Antiviral medication for viral infections such as genital herpes
  • Medication to calm an irritated bladder
  • Moisturisers or hormone replacement cream for menopausal symptoms
  • Over-the-counter medications if the cause is interstitial cystitis

Whichever medication your doctor recommends, it is important to take it exactly as prescribed. Eg if you are given antibiotics for a bacterial infection and your symptoms improve before you finish the course of antibiotics, you should continue to complete the course. Bacterial infections usually clear up quite quickly when antibiotics are taken as prescribed. 

For more serious causes such as an enlarged prostate, kidney or bladder stones, or cancer, your GP or consultant will recommend tailored treatment for your condition.

Frequently asked questions

Will a UTI go away on its own?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can go away on their own. But if you have a persistent UTI or recurrent UTIs, your GP may prescribe antibiotics. 

Why does it burn when I pee but I have no infection?

If you do not have an infection but you still experience a burning sensation when you pee, there are other causes, such as hormonal changes at menopause and bacterial vaginosis in women and non-bacterial prostatitis in men.

Why does it burn a little when I pee?

The most common cause of a burning sensation when peeing is a bacterial infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other causes include bacterial vaginosis, hormonal changes at menopause and prostatitis.

What is the fastest way to get rid of a bladder infection?

Bladder infections can go away on their own after a few days. If your bladder infection persists, see your GP. They may prescribe a course of antibiotics to take for several days or weeks. It is important to drink lots of water when you have a bladder infection to help your body clear it. However, do not drink caffeine or alcohol as these can dehydrate your body and worsen your symptoms.