Why Does It Burn When I Pee? A Look at Painful Urination
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The Most Common Explanations for Painful Urination

Dysuria is the technical term for an uncomfortable, burning, or painful feeling when you pee. It’s not that uncommon, and it can stem from a number of benign causes (and a few more serious problems).

Any significant change in your health or comfort should never be ignored, so schedule an appointment with your doctor to investigate the issue. In the meantime, there are a few possible explanations to help you understand where your pain might be coming from.

Who Gets Dysuria?

Anyone could suffer from this uncomfortable and embarrassing condition, but women are more likely to experience burning during urination than men are. Part of the reason for the gender bias is that women are more prone to everyday infections around the urethra.

Most men who experience dysuria are older; younger men are the least likely to experience the burning sensation. However, discomfort in the bladder and urinary tract can be caused by a variety things, and some of these do not discriminate between genders or age groups.

Blame the Burn on Inflammation

The urinary tract and genitals are sensitive areas — they can’t always fend off irritation or infection as well as other parts of the body. Everything from physical trauma to invasive bacteria can cause discomfort and inflammation in the tissues, including burning during urination.

Some of the most common causes of inflammation in the bladder and urethra are:

  • Irritation from sexual intercourse
  • Activities that rub or put pressure on the urethra (a long bike ride, for instance)
  • Scented soaps, toilet paper, or other hygiene products with additives
  • Side effects of medications or supplements
  • Kidney stones (especially when they move down into the urinary tract)
  • Infection

Rarely, burning during urination can point to a tumor in the urinary tract, or a condition known as interstitial cystitis that is caused by bladder inflammation. More commonly, the inflammation is from an infection that can be cured with antibiotics.

Infections That Lead to Dysuria

The most common causes of dysuria are infections, and they come in all shapes and forms. Personal hygiene is not always at the heart of the problem: sexual contact can introduce problematic bacteria, and some people are simply more prone to infection than others.

Burning is often an early sign that bacteria are at play, but you’ll need to take a closer look at the other symptoms to determine which sort of infection you may have.


Urinary tract infections are the second most common type of infection, and can range from annoying to excruciating. Women are more likely to contract UTIs because of their shorter urethra, which allows bacteria easier passage into the bladder.

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UTIs can involve any or all parts of the urinary tracts: urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys. Aside from burning when you pee, UTIs can cause cloudy or bloody urine, foul-smelling urine, strong urge to urinate often, and pain in your side. As with other infections, fever is also common.


Some sexually transmitted infections are unmistakable, with worrying visible signs that send you straight to your doctor. On the other hand, other infections bring along more discomfort than alarming physical changes.

Genital herpes is associated with sores, bumps, or blisters on the genitals, but you might experience burning or itching before you see the evidence. Likewise, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause burning before the telltale discharge and pelvic pain arises.

Symptoms of these STIs don’t always show up right away: they can develop days or weeks after the sexual encounter.

Yeast Infections

An overgrowth of yeast in and around the vagina can lead to yeast infections in women. They are very common and very treatable, but they can be quite uncomfortable from the outset. Vaginal infections often cause white, lumpy discharge that smells foul, and the genitals can become incredibly itchy.

While women are much more prone to yeast infections, men aren’t immune. Sexual contact can pass the yeast to the penis, leading to balanitis (inflammation of the head of the penis). Itching, irritation, and burning during urination are common symptoms, as well as small white spots or a peeling rash on the penis.

When Painful Urination Is an Emergency

Since so many conditions can bring dysuria, and many of these ailments mimic each other, the best way to get to the root of the problem is with a prompt visit to your doctor and a thorough physical examination. However, there are some cases when you shouldn’t wait for that appointment.

Abdominal Pain

If the burning comes alongside extreme abdominal pain, you should visit an emergency department to rule out appendicitis, or if you’re pregnant, ectopic pregnancy. These are emergencies that require quick treatment; waiting for the pain to pass could lead you into the danger zone.

Urine Retention

If the burning leads to retention — that is, you’re unable to urinate at all — you need to see a doctor immediately to prevent damage to the bladder, kidneys, and ureter. The bladder can be emptied with the help of a catheter, and a urologist can investigate the cause of the problem.

There are plenty of tests that doctors can perform to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, and many are quick and easy. A urinalysis is a good starting point, but a doctor may wish to test any discharge or perhaps perform a blood test, as well. If an obstruction is suspected, they may also conduct an imaging test.

Fortunately, most cases of dysuria can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics, so don’t hesitate to get the care you need. Ignoring the symptoms will likely result in more burning and pain, and could lead to major health complications. Some infections can even cause infertility if left untreated.