Pain When Urinating

Why it might hurt when you go to the toilet

Man looking up painful urination on his phone in bed

Key takeaways

  • Painful urination can be a sign of an STI, but it isn't always

  • Other non-sexually-transmitted infections or health conditions can also cause painful urination

  • Pain when urinating is not normal an emergency, but it can be in some cases

  • You can have painful urination as a one-off without it meaning anything is wrong

  • You can get tested for causes of painful urination and also treatment where appropriate

Contents of this article

If you're having some pain when urinating then it makes sense to want to check if something is wrong. Painful urination can have various causes, some serious and some not.

Find out how to check if your painful urination needs following up and how to go about doing it.

Does feeling pain when you urinate mean you have an STI?

Not necessarily – not all causes of painful urination are STIs.

It can be a sign of some STIs, though – painful urination is a symptom of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including: 

  • Chlamydia – other symptoms of chlamydia can include discharge, bleeding or spotting between periods, testicle pain, and pain when having sex. It’s important to remember that more than half of people infected with chlamydia never show symptoms at all
  • Gonorrhoea – this infection can affect the vagina, penis, anus (back passage) or throat. Other symptoms include discharge, bleeding or spotting between periods, unusually heavy periods, pain when having sex, testicular pain, and the urge to urinate frequently. It’s important to remember that around half of women infected with gonorrhoea never show symptoms

Why do some STIs cause painful urination? – painful urination is caused by bacteria in the tube through which urine passes (the urethra). The bacteria causes inflammation and irritation around the area, which causes it to become very sensitive. Any aggravation to the area (such as passing urine) will cause a feeling of pain. Most people describe a ‘burning’ or ‘stinging’ pain when they experience painful urination. 

What makes it more likely you have an STI – several factors can make it more likely for someone to contract an STI: 

  • Recent change in sexual partner
  • Having a high number of sexual partners 
  • Having oral, vaginal, or anal sex without wearing a condom

What else can cause pain when you urinate?

Not all infections that affect the urethra are caused by an STI – in fact, most of the time it’s caused when bacteria which normally live in the bowel end up in the urethra instead. 

Other symptoms of non-sexually-transmitted infections – there are other symptoms that are associated with this type of infections. You may experience a sudden, intense feeling of needing to urinate (urgency), urinating very little amounts often (frequency), lower abdominal discomfort or feeling generally unwell in yourself. The urine that is passed may look cloudy or even tinged with red, though in some people the appearance doesn’t change. The urine that is passed may also be unusually strong-smelling. 

Other, rarer, causes can also cause painful urination

  • A blockage in the urethra – this may be caused by a stone formed by the body or a foreign object which has been inserted into the urethra
  • Skin conditions – any skin condition could affect the skin around the genitals and cause the area to become inflamed and sensitive
  • Some medications – painful urination can be a side effect of some medications. This will normally be indicated on the patient information leaflet. If you have recently developed painful urination soon after starting or changing a medication, you may be experiencing a side effect
  • Congenital conditions that affect the urethra
  • Injury or a hard blow to the area – especially in men
  • Interstitial cystitis – a long-term condition that affects the bladder, causing symptoms that are similar to an infection. However, no bacteria is found in the bladder, urethra, or urine

Can it be just a one-off situation?

Sometimes, yes – Possible causes of a one-off event of painful urination include urinating immediately after sex or an injury or hard blow to the penis. We recommend that you consult a doctor if the pain is severe, persists for a few days, or keeps reoccuring. 

It may stop on its own – some causes of painful urination (such as a mild injury to the penis) can resolve by itself. However, others will need treatment. Some, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), can even result in long-lasting complications if left untreated. If you think there is a chance it could be an STI, it's better to get tested than wait for it to resolve.

What should you do about painful urination?

Firstly, it’s important to find out what is causing it

Testing for STIs – if you think you may have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), we offer an online service where you can get STI test kits for home testing. Alternatively, you can make a face-to-face appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms. 

Getting STI treatment – if you know that you have an STI, we can also offer some types of treatment. You can get treatment for chlamydia, genital herpes, and genital warts from our online consultation service. Alternatively, if you have made a face-to-face appointment with a doctor or nurse they will be able to offer you treatment on the same day. 

Avoiding painful urination – there are some things that you can do yourself to prevent painful urination from occuring. 

  • Urinating soon after you have sex – this helps to ‘flush out’ the bacteria that shouldn’t be in the urethra
  • Always wiping from front to back after you go to the toilet (women only) – this stops bacteria from the back passage from coming into possible contact with the urethra
  • Always wearing a condom when you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex – as well as preventing unwanted pregnancies, condoms will help protect from STIs
  • Changing condoms if you have just done anal sex and want to have vaginal sex – this also helps prevent bacteria from the back passage being transferred to the vagina and urethra

Over-the-counter pain management – if you are experiencing painful urination right now, you can take regular painkillers such as paracetamol to ease your symptoms but seek medical advice if it doesn’t settle.

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