Why does it hurt when I pee?

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Using the bathroom should be simple and pain-free. So when urination comes with burning, stinging or another kind of pain or discomfort, it’s a pretty clear sign that something isn’t right.

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 unless you get a diagnosis from an ob-gyn or urologist.

Here are a few things that could be causing pain during urination and how to ease or end it.

Urinary tract infection

Anyone can get a urinary tract infection (UTI), but this infection is more common in women. The infection occurs when bacteria make their way into the urethra and into your bladder. The bacterial overgrowth makes urine acidic, so when it comes out of the urethra you’ll get a burning sensation.

In addition to painful peeing, UTIs can 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 a pee that’s particularly foul-smelling.

Antibiotics are typically needed to treat UTIs but, if symptoms are mild, you could be able to get away with increasing your water intake and taking over-the-counter Azo. However, taking an over-the-counter medication like Azo should be discontinued after 24 hours and you should see a doctor if your pain continues.

Yeast infection

The burning sensation you’re experiencing could also be the result of a yeast infection, which happens when there’s an overgrowth of yeast in the vaginal area. One way to tell if you have a yeast infection – as opposed to another type of infection – is that you’ll notice a thick, white discharge. Over-the-counter medications are easily available to treat yeast infection, but it’s always best to see a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms.

Sexually transmitted infections

When it hurts to pee and you don’t have a UTI, it could be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Most people assume their pain is being caused by a UTI and don’t stop to consider that it could be a STI. It’s a common but risky assumption to make, because you don’t want to delay treatment for a STI.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and genital herpes can make it hurt to pee. Other signs you may have a STI include itchiness, changes to your usual vaginal discharge and, in the case of herpes, blisters or sores on your vagina 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 can help you figure out the right option for you.

Cystitis

Cystitis, or an inflammation of the bladder, can be caused by a wide range of causes. However, in many cases, cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Many irritants can upset the bladder lining and lead to inflammation – and, ultimately, pain while peeing. Cystitis can occur secondary to infection, but can also occur after radiation to the pelvis or if someone suffers from an inflammatory condition called interstitial cystitis (otherwise known as painful bladder syndrome). When you have interstitial cystitis, it hurts for the bladder to fill with urine (which means peeing usually provides relief), but many people with this condition also have urinary frequency, urgency, chronic pelvic pain and pain during sex.

A variety of treatments, including medication, physical therapy and nerve stimulation, may be needed to ease symptoms of interstitial cystitis. However, it’s best to be seen by your primary doctor, your gynecologist or a urologist prior to management.

Fara Bellows is a urologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.