The urethra is the tube that drains urine from the bladder. In men, the urethra is a long tube inside of the penis. In women, it’s shorter and located inside of the pelvis.
Pain in the urethra may be dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, meaning it comes and goes. New onset of pain is called acute. When the pain continues for a long time, it’s called chronic.
Problems in the urethra can occur due to:
- an injury
- tissue damage
- an infection
- an illness
Irritation may temporarily cause pain in the urethra. Sources of irritation include:
- bubble baths
- contraceptive gels
- douches or feminine hygiene products
- an injury due to a blow to the pelvic area
- radiation exposure
- scented or harsh soaps
- sexual activity
In most cases, avoiding irritants will alleviate the pain.
Pain in the urethra can also be a symptom of a wide variety of underlying medical conditions, including:
- inflammation due to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and urethra
- inflammation due to bacterial or viral infections of the prostate or testes
- inflammation due to bacterial or viral infections of the pelvis, which is called pelvic inflammatory disease in women
- cancer of the urinary tract
- obstruction, stricture, or narrowing of the urine outlet flow tract, which can occur due to kidney or bladder stones
- epididymitis, or inflammation of the epididymis in the testicles
- orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles
- postmenopausal atrophic vaginitis, or vaginal atrophy
- vaginal yeast infection
Symptoms that can accompany pain in the urethra include:
- an inability to urinate
- a frequent, urgent need to urinate
- a burning sensation during urination
- blood in the urine or semen
- unusual discharge
- unusual vaginal discharge
- a fever
Seek medical attention if you experience one or more of these symptoms along with pain in your urethra.
Your doctor may order a variety of diagnostic tests. In most cases, treatment resolves the pain once the doctor makes an accurate diagnosis and treats the cause.
During an exam, they will need to palpate, or feel, your abdomen for tenderness. If you’re a female, a pelvic exam may be necessary. It’s likely that your doctor will also order a urinalysis and urine culture.
Depending on your symptoms and the results of your physical exam, additional tests and imaging studies may help your doctor reach a diagnosis. They include:
- CT scan
- kidney and bladder ultrasound
- MRI scan
- radionuclide scan
- tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- urodynamic test
- voiding cystourethrogram
Treatment depends on the cause of your pain. If the cause is an infection, you may need a course of antibiotics. Drinking plenty of fluids and frequent urination may shorten how long you need to recover.
Other medications may include:
- pain relievers
- antispasmodics to control muscle spasms in the bladder
- alpha-blockers to relax muscle tone
If an irritant is causing your pain, your doctor will likely tell you to try and avoid it in the future.
Surgery can be an effective treatment for correcting the narrowing of the urethra, also known as a urethral stricture.
Treatment of the cause usually results in pain relief.