What Is It?

Dysuria is the medical term for pain or discomfort during urination. This pain often is described as a burning sensation. Although dysuria most commonly is caused by bacterial infections of the urinary tract, it also can be a symptom of several other conditions. Some common causes of dysuria include:

  • Lower urinary tract infection (cystitis or bladder infection) — Dysuria is a common symptom of a bladder infection (cystitis). Cystitis is very common in women aged 20 to 50. An infection often starts when bacteria enter the urethra (the opening where urine comes out) during sexual intercourse. Bacteria also can enter the urethra in women and girls who wipe with toilet tissue from back to front. Once bacteria enter a woman’s urethra, it only has to travel a short distance to the bladder. In men over age 50, a bladder infection usually is associated with an enlarged prostate or prostate infection.

  • Upper urinary tract infection (pyelonephritis or kidney infection) — A kidney usually becomes infected because bacteria have traveled to the kidney from an infection in the bladder. Kidney infections commonly are associated with the following conditions: pregnancy, enlarged prostate, diabetes, nerve problems that affect bladder function,  kidney stones, bladder tumors, an abnormal backflow of urine from the bladder to the kidneys (called vesicoureteral reflux), or an obstruction related to abnormal development of the urinary tract (usually in children). Pyelonephritis is more common in women than in men.

  • Urethritis — Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra (the urine tube). Most commonly, it is caused by sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Urethritis also can be caused by contact with an irritating chemical (antiseptics, bubble bath or some spermicides) or by irritation from an object, such as a catheter inserted to drain urine.

  • Vaginitis — Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina. Common infections of the vagina include:

    • Bacterial vaginosis, a condition linked to changes in the normal bacteria that live in the vagina
    • Candidiasis, also called a yeast infection
    • Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease caused by the microscopic one-celled organism Trichomonas vaginalis

Vaginitis also can be caused by an allergic reaction to an irritating chemical (spermicide, douche, bath soap), a low level of estrogen after menopause, or an object, such as a tampon that was not removed.


Depending on the cause of dysuria, there may be other symptoms in addition to pain during urination. These symptoms can include:

  • Lower urinary tract infection (cystitis) — Frequent urination, an intense urge to urinate, loss of bladder control, pain in the lower front portion of the abdomen (near the bladder), cloudy urine that may have a strong odor, bloody urine.

  • Upper urinary tract infection (pyelonephritis) — Pain in the upper back, high fever with shaking chills, nausea and vomiting, cloudy urine, frequent urination, an intense urge to urinate

  • Urethritis — A discharge from the end of the urethra, redness around the opening of the urethra, frequent urination, or vaginal discharge. Partners of people with urethritis resulting from a sexually transmitted disease often will not have any symptoms.

  • Vaginitis — Pain, soreness or itching in the vagina, an abnormal or foul-smelling vaginal discharge or odor, and pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse.


Many people will experience occasional episodes of brief discomfort only at the beginning of urination. Usually this is caused by irritation, and does not need to be treated. However, you should see your health-care provider if pain during urination is prolonged, severe or if it continues to happen.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms as well as your personal and sexual habits. During a physical examination, he or she will check for tenderness over the kidneys and examine your genitals. For women, this may include a pelvic exam. Men with suspected prostate problems may have a digital rectal exam.

If your doctor thinks you have a simple bladder infection, he or she usually can confirm this with a urine test in the doctor’s office. To diagnose urethritis and vaginitis, a swab of the infected area may need to be taken and sent for testing. If your doctor suspects you have a kidney infection, a urine sample will be sent to a laboratory to identify the species of bacteria. If you have a fever or appear ill, a sample of your blood may be tested in a laboratory to check for bacteria in the blood.

If you have dysuria and a history of unprotected sex with multiple partners, your doctor may order tests to look for various types of sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, syphilis and HIV.

Expected Duration

How long dysuria lasts depends on its cause. Most people with infections of the bladder, urethra or vagina will respond well to treatment within a few days. When the cause is more difficult to determine, symptoms may last longer.


To help prevent dysuria caused by cystitis or pyelonephritis, you can drink several glasses of water each day to flush out your urinary tract. Women should wipe from front to back after having a bowel movement, and urinate after sexual intercourse to flush bacteria from the bladder.

To prevent dysuria caused by local irritation, women should keep the genital area clean and dry, change tampons and sanitary napkins frequently, and avoid using irritating soaps, vaginal sprays and douches.

To help prevent dysuria caused by sexually transmitted diseases, men and women can avoid sex or have a sexual relationship with one uninfected person. If you have more than one sex partner, or if you think your partner could be infected, use latex condoms during sexual activity.


Treatment of dysuria depends on its cause:

  • Cystitis and pyelonephritis — These infections, which usually are caused by bacteria, can be cured with antibiotics taken by mouth. Antibiotics may need to be given intravenously (into a vein) for severe pyelonephritis with high fever, shaking chills and vomiting.

  • Urethritis — Urethritis is treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic used depends on which infection is causing the urethritis.

  • Vaginitis — Trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis are treated with antibiotics. Yeast infections are treated with antifungal drugs, either by mouth or as a suppository or cream that is inserted into the vagina.

If you are sexually active and you are being treated for dysuria caused by a sexually transmitted disease, your sex partners also must be treated.

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor immediately if you have dysuria along with fever, frequent urination, the urgent need to urinate, abdominal pain, back pain or other symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Also, call your doctor immediately if you have blood in the urine or dysuria together with an abnormal vaginal or urethral discharge.


A single episode of infection in the bladder, vagina or kidney usually goes away completely after treatment with antibiotics. In most cases, there is very little risk of long-term damage. With proper antibiotic treatment, bacterial urethritis also disappears. However, certain sexually transmitted diseases can lead to scarring of the reproductive tract if they are not diagnosed and treated promptly. Over the long-term, this may cause fertility problems.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.