The urinary tract consists of several parts, each with a different function. The kidneys filter and remove waste products and water from the body and produce urine. Urine travels from the kidneys through two narrow tubes called ureters down to the bladder, where it is stored. When the bladder becomes full, it empties the urine through the urethra to the outside of the body. Painful urination can range from mild discomfort or a burning sensation in the urinary tract to severe, intense pain. This pain may be acute, when it occurs suddenly, or chronic, when the pain lasts for a long period of time. Painful urination usually results from conditions that may be caused by infection, trauma, or something blocking the urinary tract.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many possible causes of painful urination. Some of these include:
trauma to the urinary tract, such as genital injuries in males and females
inflammation to any part of the urinary tract including the bladder, the kidney, or the urethra
prostatitis, or inflammation or infection to the prostate gland in men
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chemical irritation to the lining of the genitals and urethra, such as from soaps, bubble bath, or detergents used to wash undergarments
conditions or diseases of the kidney, such as polycystic kidney disease or medullary cystic kidney disease
sudden rupture of one of the small sacs, or cysts, in the kidney
urinary obstruction, such as kidney stones
autoimmune disorders, which are conditions in which a person’s immune system attacks his or her own body for no apparent reason
traumatic sexual experiences, including rape
certain antidepressant medications
tumors or cancer of any part of the urinary tract
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
When a person has painful urination, the healthcare provider will want more information. Questions may include the following:
When did the pain start?
What type of pain is it? Mild, moderate, or severe? Is it a burning sensation?
Does the pain occur each time the person urinates?
Does the pain get worse before, during, at the end of, or after urinating?
Does anything reduce the pain or make the pain worse?
Are there any other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, headache, or itching?
Is there pain in other areas, such as the back, pelvis, or to the side of the abdomen?
Is there any blood in the urine, or any unusual color or smell to the urine?
Is there any frequency or difficulty urinating? Is it difficult to start a stream when urinating? Or can the person only produce a small amount of urine at a time?
Does bathing increase or decrease the pain?
Has there been any change in the brand of soap, detergent, or fabric softener?
What medications, drugs, or herbs does the person take, if any?
Is there a history of any other medical problems or surgeries?
Are there any symptoms of kidney failure, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite?
Is there any itching, shortness of breath, or loss of the sex drive?
Are there any lesions, or sores, in the genital tract?
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosing the cause of painful urination depends on the symptoms. A medical history and a history of activity, trauma, or illness may help in diagnosing the cause of the pain. The healthcare provider will want to know when the pain occurs during urination. This may help pinpoint a diagnosis. A thorough physical exam may be necessary. Urine tests, such as a urinalysis and a urine culture, may be necessary to check for infection. Blood tests may be ordered if an infection is suspected throughout the body.
Several other tests that may be done include the following:
an ultrasound of the kidney and bladder, which uses sound waves to look for abnormalities
a voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG), which shows the urethra and bladder while the bladder fills and empties. A liquid is put into the bladder through a catheter or tube inserted through the urethra. An x-ray shows the liquid traveling through the bladder and urethra. This test can reveal abnormalities of the inside of the urethra and bladder. It can also tell if any urine is traveling the wrong direction up the urinary tract.
an intravenous pyelogram, which allows the doctor to examine the whole urinary tract. A liquid is injected through a tube inserted into a vein. Then x-rays are taken as the liquid flows through the urinary tract. This test may reveal obstructions.
a nuclear scan, which uses radioactive materials injected into a vein. An image is made that shows how well the kidneys work, how the kidneys are shaped, and how urine drains from the kidneys.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Preventing painful urination depends on the cause of the pain. Protecting the urinary tract from trauma may decrease the risk of pain. Seeking early care for possible infection may decrease the risk of further pain.
Avoiding irritating bubble bath solutions, wearing cotton-lined underwear, and avoiding tight-fitting clothes may reduce the pain that goes along with allergic reactions or genital irritation. Limiting caffeine intake and practicing safer sex may also reduce a person’s risk of having painful urination. Many causes cannot be prevented.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects of painful urination will depend on the underlying cause of the pain. Pain caused by a genital injury may heal without any long-term effects. A person with a history of chronic urinary tract infections may need low-dose antibiotics for a long period of time. Some injuries or infections may lead to permanent urinary tract damage or pain. A person who has a tumor in the urinary tract may require surgery and medications over a long period of time. A person with a cancerous tumor may be treated in some cases and may die in other cases.
What are the risks to others?
Painful urination is not necessarily contagious and poses no risk to others. However, if the cause is an infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease, the infection may be contagious.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment of painful urination depends on the underlying cause of the pain. When an injury occurs, the person should apply an ice pack off and on for the first 24 hours to reduce pain and swelling. Heat, such as in a warm sitz bath, may be recommended for some causes of painful urination. Antibiotics may be prescribed for infections. Medications to stop the growth of kidney stones may be prescribed, as well as medications to stops spasms caused by kidney stones or infection.
Other treatments will vary greatly depending on the cause of the pain. Those with cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Surgery may be needed for those who have kidney stones or damage to the urinary tract from an injury or recurrent infections.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects to treatment depend on the treatment used. There are usually no side effects to ice packs or heat as long as they are not applied to the skin for long periods of time. There may be stomach upset, headache, or allergic reaction to antibiotics. Treatments that require surgery pose a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
If painful urination was caused by a urinary tract infection, a urinalysis may be done after the person finishes the full course of antibiotics. A person with minor pain and no other conditions may heal fine and may not need any further treatment. If a person had surgery, he or she may need to take it easy for a few days to a few weeks and may need follow-up care.
How is the condition monitored?
Monitoring painful urination is important. If the pain worsens or any other symptoms are present, a healthcare provider may need to monitor the person carefully. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.