In men, the urethra is a tube that runs from the bladder through the penis. In women it runs from the bladder through the pelvis. The urethra carries urine from the bladder outside the body.

Whether you’re a man or woman, when you feel burning at the tip of your urethra it’s usually a sign of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Two common STDs that can cause this symptom include chlamydia and gonorrhea.

But in some cases, something other than an STD will cause a burning sensation at the tip of the urethra.

The most common causes that are not STDs include urinary tract infections (UTI) and non-STD-related inflammation of the urethra, called urethritis. Treatment usually involves a round of antibiotics.

In most cases, burning at the tip of the urethra is caused by bacteria entering the urethra. Here’s a closer look at the possible causes:

1. UTI

With a UTI, bacteria make their way to the bladder where they multiply and spread through the body’s urinary system. Some people develop a UTI after oral, vaginal, or anal sexual intercourse, which can expose the urethra to bacteria.

Generally, females are more likely to develop a UTI than men, because their urethras are shorter than men’s. So, any bacteria that enters the urethra only needs to travel a short distance before reaching the bladder, where it can spread through the urinary tract.

2. Urethritis

Often urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra, is caused by an STD. But simple irritation of the tip of the urethra can also cause urethritis. Some common irritants include:

  • deodorants
  • lotions
  • soaps
  • spermicides

Poor hygiene may also lead to urethritis. It can also be caused by physical damage to the urethra from vigorous sex, masturbation, or a medical procedures such as catheter insertion.

3. Kidney stones

Kidney stones are hard masses of minerals and salts that form inside the kidneys and move through the urinary tract. Kidney stones are often the result of dehydration, poor diet, or infection. Genetics also seem to play a role in whether or not a person develops kidney stones.

Sometimes these stones make it to the tip of the urethra during urination. They can be very painful to pass, especially if they are large in size. Some kidney stones are as small as a fraction of an inch, while others are several inches long.

4. Urethral stricture

Urethral stricture, or scarring, narrows the urethra and may cause inflammation or infection that causes a burning sensation at the tip. Some causes of a scar tissue buildup in the urethra include:

  • medical procedures like endoscopy
  • long-term catheter use
  • trauma to the pelvis or urethra
  • an enlarged prostate gland
  • surgery to remove an enlarged prostate gland
  • cancer in the urethra
  • prostate and radiation therapy

Often the cause is unknown.

5. Prostatitis

In men, prostatitis, or swelling of the prostate gland, can cause burning at the tip of the urethra. In many cases, the causes of prostatitis are unknown. However, some men may develop prostatitis as the result of a bacterial infection or nerve damage in the lower urinary tract.

6. Prostate cancer treatment

Research suggests that some types of treatment for prostate cancer may cause a lasting burning sensation in the urethra.

In one study, 16 percent of prostate cancer survivors experienced pain in the urethra five years following their last treatment. Most of those men reporting urethra pain had received brachytherapy, which delivers radiation directly into a tumor.

Here are some of the other symptoms you can expect if you have a burning sensation in the tip of your urethra that’s not an STD:

UTI

Some other symptoms of a UTI include:

  • a frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • passing very small amounts of urine
  • cloudy urine
  • urine that is reddish or brown (sign of blood in the urine)
  • strong-smelling urine
  • pain in your pelvis (especially in women)

UTIs affecting more specific parts of the urinary system may cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • pain in the upper back and side
  • pressure in the abdomen
  • urethral discharge
  • high fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Urethritis

Women with urethritis sometimes don’t show any symptoms, while men are more likely to show signs within days to a month after infection, or exposure to irritants.

A common symptom is pus that comes out of the urethra, or the urethra or penis appears to smell. Men with urethritis may also experience pain and swelling in one or both of the testicles, and irritation along the penis.

Kidney stones

Other symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • strong pain in the side and back
  • pain that moves into the lower abdomen and groin
  • pain that comes in waves and different levels of intensity
  • pain during urination
  • reddish or brown urine
  • cloudy urine
  • foul-smelling urine
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • urinating in large or small amounts
  • fever and chills

Urethral stricture

Urethral stricture is more common in men than women. Some other symptoms include:

  • inability to completely empty the bladder
  • increased need to urinate
  • spraying during urination
  • straining during urination
  • urinary tract infection
  • weak urine stream

Prostatitis

Some other symptoms of prostatitis include:

  • blood in the urine (reddish or brown urine)
  • cloudy urine
  • difficulty urinating
  • flu-like symptoms
  • frequent urination, especially at night
  • pain during ejaculation
  • pain in the abdomen, groin, or lower back
  • pain in the perineum (area between scrotum and rectum)
  • pain or irritation in the penis or testicles
  • urgent need to urinate

Prostate cancer treatment

Some other side effects of prostate cancer treatments include:

  • bowel problems
  • breast growth
  • difficulty getting an erection
  • dry orgasms
  • fatigue
  • heart problems
  • hot flushes
  • infertility
  • loss of libido
  • mood swings
  • osteoporosis
  • urine leakage and problems

The most common STDs to cause burning at the tip of the urethra include chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, there’s a third, less-known STD that could be causing your symptoms called non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU).

This is a common STD that causes inflammation of the urethra and can lead to burning. Women often don’t show symptoms. Men may experience:

  • burning or discomfort, especially during urination
  • irritation or soreness at the tip of the penis
  • white or cloudy discharge coming from the tip of the penis

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you may want to be screened for NGU.

To help get to the bottom of what’s causing the burning at the tip of your urethra, your doctor will ask you questions to better understand your medical history. He or she will also ask about your sexual history and whether or not you have had cancer or kidney stones in your family.

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to check for signs of infection, such as fever. Lastly, he or she is likely to run some diagnostic tests to check for any unusual results that may point them in the direction of an answer. These may include:

  • cystoscopy (looking at the urethra and bladder with a tiny camera)
  • retrograde urethrogram (X-rays to look at the urethra)
  • pelvic MRI
  • pelvic ultrasound
  • urinary flow test
  • urine tests (urinalysis)
  • urethral ultrasound

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a gynecologist or obstetrician to help treat the cause of your symptoms.

Treatments for a burning sensation at the tip of the urethra vary depending on the cause.

UTI

You will be put on a course of antibiotics, or you may have to stay in the hospital for intravenous antibiotics and hospital care if you have a severe infection.

Urethritis

You’ll be given a course of antibiotics if an infection is present. You may be able to take medications for pain relief as long as you don’t have any issues, such as kidney or liver disease, stomach ulcer, or are taking blood thinning medications. Your doctor might also tell you to:

  • avoid sex or masturbation for a few weeks
  • practice protected, safe sex to prevent future cases of urethritis
  • practice healthy hygiene practices
  • have a catheter removed
  • stop use of irritating products

Kidney stones

Smaller kidney stones are easier to treat than larger stones. For small stones, treatment usually includes:

  • alpha blocker medication, which your doctor may prescribe to help you pass your kidney stone
  • drinking plenty of water
  • pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen
  • scope to remove stones in the urethra or kidney.

For larger stones, your doctor may recommend:

  • surgery to remove stones in the kidney
  • surgery to decrease activity of the parathyroid gland, which can contribute to formation of kidney stones
  • using sound waves to break up stones (extracorporeal shock wave therapy, or ESWL)

Urethral stricture

Several things can be done to ease this condition, including:

  • catheterization
  • dilation
  • endoscopic urethrotomy (removal of scar tissue with a laser)
  • implanted stent or permanent catheter (permanent artificial tube to keep urethra open)
  • urethroplasty (surgical removal or enlargement of the urethra)

Prostatitis

A few medications can be used for this, such as:

  • alpha blockers to relax the bladder and ease pain
  • antibiotics
  • anti-inflammatory drugs

Prostate cancer treatment

You may be able to pause your treatment if your doctor says it’s appropriate. Otherwise, you can try anti-inflammatory medications.

Burning at the tip of urethra is usually a cause for concern whether or not it’s caused by an STD. If your symptoms last more than a few days, or are accompanied by other unusual symptoms, see a doctor right away.

For cases of burning at the tip of the urethra accompanied by severe pain in the sides, back, or abdomen, and fever, chills, or nausea, seek emergency help as these are signs of severe infection.