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Why does it hurt when I pee?

Feeling the burn in the bathroom? If it hurts when you pee, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

UTIs are the second most common infection in the body and the reason for more than 8 million visits to the doctor each year. Researchers estimate that 60 percent of women and girls (and people assigned female at birth) will experience a UTI in their lifetime, and about a quarter of women suffer from recurrent UTIs. 

But just because UTIs are common doesn’t mean they aren’t a big deal. While most aren’t serious, some can lead to serious complications if left untreated.


What causes a UTI?

A UTI is an infection that occurs in any part of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most are caused by bacteria – particularly E. coli – which typically exists in the large intestine. (Sounds gross, but it’s totally normal and pretty darn beneficial. Most E. coli aids digestion and protects us from other harmful microbes.) When that bacteria gets into the urinary system, it can cause a UTI.

There are three types of UTIs, including:

  • Bladder infection (cystitis). This is the most common cause of UTIs. While bladder infections can be painful, they are often easily treated.
  • Urethra infection (urethritis). This inflammation of the urethra causes redness and/or swelling of the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside body. Urethritis is commonly caused by a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis). Upper urinary tract infections in the kidneys are rare but can cause serious complications if not treated quickly.


Why are women more likely to get a UTI? 

Anyone can get a UTI, but women are more likely to get one for one simple reason – anatomy. The female urethra is shorter and closer to the rectum, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract.

Other factors can also increase the risk of UTIs, including:

  • A previous UTI.
  • Sexual activity.
  • Changes in the bacteria that live inside the vagina.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Age (older adults and young children are more likely to get UTIs).
  • Structural problems in the urinary tract.
  • Poor hygiene, such as children who are potty-training.

While less common, men and people assigned male at birth can also get UTIs. Children can also get them, though UTIs only affect 1 to 2 percent of children. 

lightbulbNeed to talk to your teen about UTIs? While it may feel awkward, it’s important they understand what they are and how to prevent them. Learn more about UTIs in teenagers.


What are the symptoms of UTIs? 

Painful urination that doesn’t go away is just one of the signs you may have a UTI. Some people experience no pain at all.  

Other common symptoms may include:

  • A strong urge to pee.
  • Passing only a small amount of urine at a time.
  • Urine that is cloudy, smells bad, or tinted red or pink.
  • Discharge.
  • Lack of bladder control. Incontinence is more common in older adults with UTIs.

If your kidneys are affected by a UTI, you may have additional symptoms, such as:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain in the upper back or groin.


What causes painful urination other than a UTI?

Your painful urination may be caused by something other than a UTI. Several other conditions can cause similar symptoms, including:

If you’re experiencing painful urination or other concerning signs, it’s important to seek treatment to relieve your discomfort and stop the potential spread of infection. Only a health care clinician can assess your symptoms and make a diagnosis.


How can I prevent future UTIs?

If you’re prone to UTIs, there are some things you can do (or not do) that can lower the odds of future infections. 

  • Guzzle the H2O. Drinking extra fluids can help flush out bacteria from your urinary tract.
  • Pee when you feel the need. Peeing frequently can reduce your risk of developing an infection. Always be sure to empty your bladder.
  • Pee before and after sex. Sex can easily introduce bacteria into the urethra. Peeing before and after can help flush it out.
  • Wipe from front to back. The short distance between the urethra and rectum makes it easier for bacteria to move back into your body.
  • Use water-based lube during sex. Water-based lubes mimic the body’s natural lubrication and help maintain the health of the genital tissues.
  • Wash your hands before you go to the bathroom (or have sex). It’s possible to get a UTI from bacteria and other microorganisms on your fingers. 
  • Weigh your birth control options. Some people are at increased risk for developing and UTI if they use a diaphragm. A health care clinician can provide more guidance and information.
  • Ditch the scented bath and hygiene products. (That goes for men, too.) Certain chemicals can cause irritation and create the ideal environment for bacteria to grow.
  • Discover the benefits of cranberries. Cranberries won’t treat a current UTI and won’t prevent the occurrence of infection for everyone, but recent findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that cranberry products may reduce the risk of UTIs in women with a history of recurrent UTIs and in children. Sidestep the added sugar in juice and opt for an over-the-counter cranberry supplement.

Certain foods and drinks can cause worsen UTI symptoms. If you’ve been diagnosed with a UTI before, try to limit or avoid these items:

  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeinated beverages.
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Artificially sweetened drinks.
  • Acidic fruits, such as lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruit.
  • Spicy foods.


Should I see a doctor for painful urination?

If you have pain or burning with urination that doesn’t resolve itself quickly on its own, it’s important to seek medical treatment to relieve your discomfort and prevent any serious complications.  

Based on your symptoms and a simple urine test, a health care clinician will be able to tell what’s causing your painful urination. A urine culture may also be taken to identify if any bacteria are present. 

  • If the source is bacterial, your clinician will prescribe oral antibiotics. 
  • More severe upper-tract UTIs may require intravenous antibiotics and a trip to the ER.
  • If you frequently have UTIs, a health care clinician will provide the best treatment options based on your history.
  • If your urine tests negative for a UTI, a health care clinician will be able to determine what else might be causing your pain.


You should visit your nearest emergency room if you:

  • Experience nausea, fever, vomiting, chills or pain in one side of your back under the ribs.
  • Have diabetes, a weak immune system or kidney problems.
  • Notice pus or blood in your urine
  • Are pregnant.


Indigo is here for you – in person and virtually

If you’re experiencing painful urination or other symptoms, you don’t need to wait for relief. Indigo Urgent Care is here to ease your discomfort and get to the bottom of what’s going on down there. 

Simply walk into one of our convenient neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. One of our health care clinicians will evaluate your symptoms and provide a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan, including a prescription, if needed. 

If you’ve had UTIs in the past and know the symptoms, skip the trip to the clinic and make a same-day or next-day Indigo Virtual Care appointment from your phone or favorite device.

In person and virtually, we’re here 8 am to 8 pm every day, including weekends and holidays.

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