Painful urination is a broad term that is used to describe discomfort during urination. This pain may be caused by your:
- urethra (the tube that carries urine outside your body)
- perineum (in men, the area between the scrotum and the anus and in women, the area between the anus and the opening of the vagina)
Painful urination is very common. The pain, burning, or stinging can indicate a number of medical conditions.
Painful urination is a common sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs can be caused by bacterial infection or inflammation of the urinary tract.
Your urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The ureters are tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Inflammation in any of these organs can cause pain during urination.
Women and girls are more likely to develop urinary tract infections than men or boys. This is because the urethra is shorter in women than it is in men, and bacteria are more likely to live in a shorter urethra.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women who are pregnant or menopausal also have an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections (NIH).
Other medical conditions can cause painful urination in men and women.
In men, prostatitis—or the inflammation of the prostate gland—is a primary cause of urinary burning, stinging, and discomfort.
You may also experience pain when urinating if you have a sexually transmitted infection, such as genital herpes, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. It’s important to get screened for these infections if you are experiencing pain and have participated in risky sexual activities, such as having sex without a condom or with multiple partners.
Another cause of painful urination is cystitis, or the inflammation of the bladder’s lining. Interstitial cystitis (IC)—also known as painful bladder syndrome—is the most common type of cystitis.
Symptoms of IC include pain and tenderness in the bladder and pelvic region. According to the National Kidney and Urologic Disease Information Clearinghouse, doctors do not know what causes IC (NKUDIC).
In some cases, radiation therapy can cause bladder and urinary pain. This condition is known as radiation cystitis.
You may have difficulty urinating comfortably if you have kidney stones. Kidney stones are masses of hardened material located in the kidneys.
Sometimes, painful urination is not caused by an infection, but rather by products that are used on the genital regions. Soaps, lotions, and bubble baths can irritate vaginal tissues. Dyes in laundry detergents and other toiletry products can also cause irritation and lead to painful urination in those that are sensitive to them.
In some cases, your doctor will prescribe medication to treat painful urination.
Antibiotics can treat UTIs, bacterial prostatitis, and treatable sexually transmitted infections. Your healthcare provider may also give you medication to calm your irritated bladder. Drugs used to treat IC include:
- tricyclic antidepressants
- pentosan polysulfate sodium(elmiron)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol) with codeine
Once treatment is started, painful urination that is caused by bacterial infections usually improves fairly quickly. You should always take the medication exactly as your doctor prescribes in order to have the best results and fully recover.
Pain associated with interstitial cystitis may be more challenging to treat. Results from drug therapy may be slower. In some instances, you may have to take medication for up to four months before you start to feel better.
There are changes you can make in your lifestyle to eliminate episodes of painful urination. Some simple ones are to:
- steer clear of scented laundry detergents and toiletries to reduce your risk of irritation
- use condoms during sexual activity to keep yourself safe from sexually transmitted infections
- modify your diet to eliminate food and drinks that irritate the bladder
According to the NKUDIC, anecdotal evidence suggests that certain foods are more likely to irritate your bladder than others (NKUDIC). Some irritants to avoid include:
- spicy foods
- citrus fruits and juices
- tomato products
- artificial sweeteners
If you suffer from pain during urination, you should also avoid highly acidic foods in order to help your bladder heal. Try to stick with a bland diet for several weeks while you are receiving medical treatment.