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Painful urination is a broad term that describes discomfort during urination. This pain may originate in the bladder, urethra, or perineum. The urethra is the tube that carries urine outside of your body. In men, the area between the scrotum and the anus is known as the perineum. In women, the perineum is the area between the anus and the opening of the vagina.
Painful urination is very common. Pain, burning, or stinging can indicate a number of medical conditions.
Painful urination is a common sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI can be the result of a bacterial infection. It can also be due to inflammation of the urinary tract.
The urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys make up your urinary tract. The ureters are tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Inflammation in any of these organs can cause pain during urination.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women are more likely to develop urinary tract infections than men. This is because the urethra is shorter in women than it is in men. A shorter urethra means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder. Women who are pregnant or menopausal also have an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections.
Other medical conditions can cause painful urination in men and women.
Men may experience painful urination due to prostatitis. This condition is the inflammation of the prostate gland. It’s a primary cause of urinary burning, stinging, and discomfort.
You may also experience pain when urinating if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some STIs that may cause painful urination include genital herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. It’s important to be screened for these infections, especially because they don't always have symptoms. Certain sexual practices will put you at a higher risk for STIs, such as having sex without a condom, or sex with multiple partners. Anyone who is sexually active should get tested for STIs.
Another cause of painful urination is cystitis, or the inflammation of the bladder’s lining. Interstitial cystitis (IC) is also known as painful bladder syndrome. It’s the most common type of cystitis.
Symptoms of IC include pain and tenderness in the bladder and pelvic region. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), doctors don’t know what causes IC.
In some cases, radiation therapy can cause bladder and urinary pain. This condition is known as radiation cystitis.
You may have difficulty urinating comfortably if you have kidney stones. Kidney stones are masses of hardened material located in the kidneys.
Sometimes painful urination isn’t due to an infection. It can also be due to products that you use in the genital regions. Soaps, lotions, and bubble baths can irritate vaginal tissues. Dyes in laundry detergents and other toiletry products can also cause irritation and lead to painful urination.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat painful urination.
Antibiotics can treat UTIs, bacterial prostatitis, and some sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor may also give you medication to calm your irritated bladder. Drugs used to treat IC include tricyclic antidepressants, pentosan polysulfate sodium (elmiron), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) with codeine.
Painful urination due to a bacterial infection usually improves fairly quickly after you start taking medication. Always take the medication exactly as your doctor prescribes for the best results.
Pain associated with interstitial cystitis may be more challenging to treat. Results from drug therapy may be slower. You may have to take medication for up to four months before you start to feel better.
There are changes you can make to your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms. Steer clear of scented laundry detergents and toiletries to reduce your risk of irritation. Use condoms during sexual activity to keep yourself safe from STIs. Modify your diet to eliminate food and drinks that irritate the bladder.
The NIDDK notes that there’s some evidence to suggest certain foods are more likely to irritate your bladder. Some irritants to avoid include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, and artificial sweeteners.
You should also avoid highly acidic foods to help your bladder heal. Try to stick with a bland diet for several weeks while you’re receiving medical treatment.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: Oct 18, 2016: Graham Rogers, MD
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