Before you can make it stop, you're going to need to find the source of your misery.
The simple act of peeing should be just that: simple. So when urinating comes with burning, stinging, or another kind of pain or discomfort, it’s a pretty blatant sign that something isn't right.
Unfortunately for us, most women will experience this bathroom-break misery at least once in their life. On any given day at her Greenville, Mississippi medical practice, ob-gyn Lakeisha Richardson, MD, estimates that 30% of her patients come to see her because it hurts to pee.
Technically called dysuria, painful urination could be a sign of a number of different infections, some of which require treatment. Other times, pain when peeing can resolve on its own—but you won't know that unless you get the correct diagnosis from your ob-gyn ASAP.
Here are a few things she'll be looking for that could be causing your painful urination, plus how to ease or end it.
Urinary tract infection
Anyone can get a UTI, but this infection is notoriously common in women—and notoriously to blame for pain while peeing. “I would say about 80% of the time [painful urination] is a UTI,” Dr. Richardson says.
The infection occurs when bacteria make their way into the urethra (the tube through which urine flows out of your body) and then into your bladder. “The bacterial overgrowth makes urine acidic,” Dr. Richardson explains. “When it’s coming out of the urethra, you’ll get the burning sensation.”
In additional to painful peeing, a UTI can also cause symptoms such as a frequent and strong urge to pee (despite the fact that you’re only producing a small amount of urine at a time), cloudy urine, or pee that’s particularly foul-smelling.
Antibiotics are the standard treatment for UTIs, but if your symptoms are mild, you may be able to get away with drinking lots of extra fluids, popping an OTC painkiller, and waiting it out.
In case you’re wondering if your pee pain means you have a yeast infection instead, Dr. Richardson says an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina typically causes more of a consistent burning sensation all the time versus pain just during urination.
Sexually transmitted infections
When it hurts to pee and it’s not a UTI, it’s usually an STI, Dr. Richardson says. “Most women always assume it’s a UTI and won’t consider that it could be an STI,” she says. It’s a common but risky assumption to make, because you don’t want to delay STI treatment—or urinary pain relief, for that matter.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes can all make it hurt to pee. Other signs you might have an STI include itchiness, changes to your usual vaginal discharge, and, in the case of herpes, blisters or sores on your vagina and/or vulva.
In-office or at-home STI tests can help identify the cause of your symptoms. Treatment depends on the specific infection, but your doctor will guide you toward the right option, which might include antibiotics or antiviral medications.
Technically the name for inflammation of the bladder, cystitis can trigger a wide range of causes itself. In many cases, cystitis is caused by a a bacterial infection—aka, a UTI—but not always.
Many irritants can upset the bladder lining and lead to inflammation, and ultimately pain while peeing. These can include some medications and treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer patients. But something as simple as a bubble bath, body wash, spermicide, or feminine hygiene spray can also irritate and inflame the bladder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If a product is the source of your bladder inflammation and painful urination, the fix is simple: Steer clear of the offending irritant. If cystitis is the result of medical treatment you're undergoing, you’ll need to discuss options to manage this side effect with your doctor.
In some women, bladder inflammation is long-lasting and hard to treat. This is called interstitial cystitis—also known, disconcertingly, as painful bladder syndrome. It can hurt for people with interstitial cystitis simply for the bladder to fill with urine (which means peeing usually provides relief), but many women with the condition also often have chronic pelvic pain and pain during sex. A variety of treatments, including medication, physical therapy, and nerve stimulation, may also be needed to ease symptoms.
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If it hurts when you pee and you’ve got blood in your urine and back pain, a UTI may have taken a turn for the worse and moved into the kidneys, Dr. Richardson says. Kidney infections—technically called pyelonephritis—occur when a UTI travels to either or both of these filtering organs. “That’s more serious,” she says. Other symptoms of a kidney infection include fever, chills, and abdominal pain.
If left untreated, a kidney infection can land you in the hospital, she warns. “They can spread to the bloodstream, which is quite dangerous.”
Your doctor will likely need a urine sample to diagnose you with a kidney infection. Antibiotics are the first line of treatment, and symptoms usually start to improve after a few days on the meds.
Kidney or bladder stones
When minerals in urine stick together and crystallize, the resulting bits are called stones—and they can settle in the kidneys or the bladder. In either case, it’s possible for stones to cause no symptoms and pass unnoticed when you pee. But if a bladder stone irritates the bladder lining or a kidney stone lodges in the wrong place, urine flow can be blocked and pain can get pretty intense, both while peeing and otherwise.
If your doctor determines you have kidney or bladder stones, he or she will likely recommend drinking lots of water to help flush out the stones. However, larger symptomatic stones may need to be removed by your doctor.
It’s the most common vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but no one knows exactly how or why some women get BV. The infection is more common in sexually active women than those who have never had vaginal sex, and it has to do with an imbalance between the healthy and harmful bacteria that naturally reside in the vagina.
According to the CDC, having sex with a new partner or with multiple partners seems to increase a woman’s chances of developing BV, as does douching. If you have BV, it can hurt to pee, your vulva and vagina might itch, and your discharge may appear thin and white or grayish. Some women with BV also notice a strong below-the-belt odor, particularly after sex.
Bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of contracting certain STIs, so it’s worth getting diagnosed and treated (usually with antibiotics), even if your symptoms are on the milder side.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Deal With Painful Sex
If you’re not quite lubricated enough when having penetrative sex, you might suffer small abrasions during the deed that leave you peeing through pain instead of blissfully reminiscing over your latest session between the sheets.
You're more likely to deal with small tears and painful peeing if you've passed that midlife milestone known as menopause. Hormonal changes brought on by menopause can thin the vaginal walls and the skin of your vulva, which on its own can make it hurt to pee—not to mention leave you more likely to develop small lacerations during sex.
In the future, a good lube can help you avoid this kind of burning while urinating. If this is the cause of your discomfort, you'll have to wait a bit before having intercourse again, Dr. Richardson says. “You may have pain with urination until that area heals.”