Frequently Asked Questions About Painful Urination

Was this helpful?
sign for public restroom

Almost everyone experiences painful urination (dysuria) at some time or another: You start to urinate, and suddenly experience intense abdominal discomfort, pain in the area of your bladder, or burning and stinging as the urine leaves your body. You may also feel the urge to go more often, which increases the frequency of painful urination episodes and makes your life miserable.

What causes these bouts of painful urination in men and women? And what can you do about them?

What causes painful urination?

The most common cause of frequent and painful urination in men and women is a urinary tract infection (UTI), though many other medical conditions also can cause urination pain. The urinary tract consists of four main parts:

  • Two kidneys that filter substances out of the blood and produce urine to carry it away

  • Two ureters, tubes or pipe-like structures that direct urine from the kidneys to the bladder

  • One bladder, a muscular sac that collects urine until it feels full and signals the brain to urinate

  • One urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body

In men, the prostate gland also is considered part of the urinary tract.
While infection of the urethra causes most cases of painful urination, other causes can include kidney stones, bladder cancer, prostatitis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or an underlying medical condition like atrophic vaginitis. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis of urination pain that is severe or lasts more than a day or two.

What causes urinary tract infections?

Among women, UTIs most commonly occur when bacteria from the intestines migrate to the urethral opening and colonizes the urethra. This can happen because the urethral opening is located close to the anus in women. Poor wiping technique after having a bowel movement can allow bacteria like E. coli to enter the urethra and cause a painful urinary tract infection. Women should always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement to avoid transferring intestinal bacteria to the urethral opening.

Men also can get UTIs due to the migration of bacteria from the bowel, but it’s less likely because a man’s urethral opening is not located in close proximity to the rectum. When men develop symptoms of a UTI, including painful urination, the diagnostic process likely will include a prostate examination to determine if the gland is infected or inflamed.

Both men and women can develop a UTI called urethritis due to a sexually transmitted infection. In most cases, a visible discharge from the urethra accompanies urethritis.

What if there’s blood in my urine with urination pain?

If you experience painful urination and see bright red blood in the toilet, or if your urine has a pink tinge to it, don’t panic. Sometimes blood in the urine can be a sign of a serious underlying disorder, such as a bladder tumor, but often a routine UTI causes bloody urine too. You should seek prompt medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and treatment if you have bloody urine.

Is painful urination always caused by a UTI?

While a urinary tract infection represents the main cause of painful urination, many other medical conditions can cause it:

  • Atrophic vaginitis, a condition that can cause pelvic pain in postmenopausal women

  • Contact allergy or irritation of the vulva or penis, which can be due to spermicides, personal lubricants, latex condoms, or other materials

  • Epididymitis or orchitis, in which a testicle (orchitis) or a structure near the testicle (epididymitis) that stores sperm becomes inflamed and swollen

  • Inflammatory disorders, such as reactive arthritis, often caused by sexually transmitted infections

  • Interstitial cystitis, a chronic noninfectious disorder affecting the bladder that occurs mostly in women

  • Kidney stones

  • Tumors of the bladder, kidney or prostate gland

How does drinking water help prevent UTIs and painful urination?

Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated makes you pee more frequently and helps flush bacteria from your urinary tract. Although you might spend more time in the bathroom, this practice helps reduce your risk of a UTI and other infections that can cause urination pain. Other steps you can take to protect the health of your urinary tract include:

  • Practice safe sex by using a condom and limiting your number of sexual partners.

  • Quit smoking because smoking can cause urinary tract cancers including bladder cancer.

  • Urinate as soon as you get the urge, because retaining urine increases the risk of bacterial growth inside the bladder.

  • For women, avoid using feminine deodorant sprays, douches or powders in the genital area.

The research is mixed on whether or not drinking cranberry juice or taking supplemental capsules can prevent UTIs. Some studies have suggested cranberry is helpful, while others have produced contradictory findings. However, cranberry is generally recognized as a safe option to try for keeping your urinary tract healthy. Consider drinking unsweetened cranberry juice so you don’t consume extra sugar.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Dysuria. Merck Manual Professional Version.
  2. Urine and Urination. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Institutes of Health.
  3. Urination – Painful. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Institutes of Health .
  4. Painful Urination. American Academy of Family Physicians.