“It burns when I pee!” If you’ve said this to yourself (or a doc) recently, you’re not alone. Lots of people with vaginas have this problem. And yeah, burning pee really is the worst. Only a few things should be happening when you pee, and almost bursting into tears isn’t one of them. Ridding your body of waste via your urine? Sure. Wondering why all people with vaginas don’t get the luxury of peeing standing up, thus avoiding any toilet seat germs (as harmless as they may be)? Why not. But if you’re preoccupied while peeing because it feels like hellfire is raining down from your urethra, you’ve got a problem. Luckily, ob/gyns have solutions. Here, the eight most common reasons it burns when you pee, plus what to do about it.
1. You have a urinary tract infection (UTI).
This is the biggest culprit behind painful peeing, Sarah Yamaguchi, M.D., ob/gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, tells SELF. As the name implies, a UTI is when any part of your urinary tract (think: your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra) gets infected, according to the Mayo Clinic. That said, it’s usually the bladder and urethra that get infected. Women tend to get more UTIs than men (because their urethras are shorter).
A UTI happens when bacteria, often E. coli, gets into your bladder or urethra. The result: unpleasant symptoms like a persistent urge to hit up the bathroom and burning when you pee. “If you’re having burning, particularly at the end of the urinary stream, it might be a sign of a urinary tract infection,” Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist in Westchester, New York, and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells SELF.
If you do, in fact, have a UTI, it’s crucial to see a doctor who can prescribe a round of antibiotics to kick the infection (and pain) to the curb. If left untreated, a UTI can spread and cause a kidney infection (and you definitely don’t want that!), according to the Mayo Clinic. You’re more likely to get a UTI if you’ve had one before, you have diabetes, you’re obese, you use spermicides or a diaphragm, or you have kidney stones or other complications blocking your urinary tract. If UTIs regularly besiege your poor body, make sure to take preventive measures, like staying hydrated, wiping from front to back, and peeing after you have sex.
2. You have a yeast infection.
An uncomfortable burning sensation while you pee is also a common symptom of yeast infections, which happen due to an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina, Dr. Yamaguchi explains. Yeast infections are pretty common—they happen to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes, and many people will experience them at least twice in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic. Besides burning pee, per the Mayo Clinic, they often come along with other symptoms such as:
- An itchy or irritated vulva and vagina
- A red or swollen vulva
- A sore vagina
- A rash in or around your vagina
- Discharge that’s watery, or discharge that looks like cottage cheese and doesn’t smell
Antifungal medications can clear up the infection, some of which are over-the-counter, and some of which are prescribed (but it’s smart to see a doctor just in case before grabbing an OTC medication, especially since some sexually transmitted diseases seem like regular ol’ vaginal infections). That said, if you have four or more yeast infections a year, you should definitely see your doctor who will likely prescribe a longer treatment plan, according to the Mayo Clinic.
To avoid recurrent yeast infections, Dr. Yamaguchi recommends maintaining good hygiene, wearing cotton underwear for breathability (or at least underwear that has a cotton crotch), and changing ASAP after you work out instead of staying in your sweaty gear.
3. You have bacterial vaginosis.
Oh, bacterial vaginosis (BV), you evil, foul-smelling condition. Yup, this infection, which arises when the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your vagina get thrown out of whack via sex, products you use, and the like, can lead to fish-scented discharge in addition to burning when you pee, Dr. Dweck says. You may have never heard of it, but BV is actually the most common infection of the vagina for people between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The symptoms are very similar to those of a yeast infection, which is why it’s important to get checked out by an ob/gyn. Your doctor can do a few simple tests to determine what type of infection you have, and if they find you have BV, they’ll prescribe antibiotics for you to take either orally or vaginally.
4. You have a sexually transmitted disease.
Plenty of STDs can cause painful pee as just one of their annoying symptoms (when symptoms show up, that is—in many cases, STDs exhibit no symptoms at all). Herpes, an extremely common viral infection known for causing sores on the mouth and genitals, is one possibility, Dr. Yamaguchi says. But other STDs can cause painful pee, too. The reason: “The urethra and vulva and vaginal tissue become inflamed and extra sensitive so when you pass urine, it may burn,” explains Dweck.
Chlamydia, a bacterial infection especially prevalent in people under 25, and gonorrhea, another bacterial infection that shows up a lot in that age range, are other common causes, Dr. Dweck says. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can also lead to abnormal discharge, like some that’s yellow or green, so be on the lookout for that as well.
And trichomoniasis, the most common curable STD that’s caused by a parasite, can also present with terrible-smelling discharge and pain while peeing.
5. You have some sex-related vaginal tears.
The sharp, sudden pain of burning while peeing might come with a surge of panic that something is really, really wrong, but that’s not always true. “Little abrasions from sex can cause some burning while peeing and irritation,” Dr. Yamaguchi says. To cut back on that yikes-inducing feeling, she recommends pouring warm water over your vaginal area while you’re peeing. “The temperature will help interfere with the nerve pathways,” she says. And to avoid the issue altogether, she suggests making sure you’re plenty lubed up whenever your vagina’s getting some attention. Here’s everything to know before you buy some lube for sex.
6. Or some non-sex-related vaginal tears.
Many people find that it burns when they pee after they give birth vaginally. Since all the tissue down below stretches in an impressive way to make room for the baby, vaginal and perineal tears can occur. This is why many new moms rely on perineal irrigation bottles, aka devices that make it even easier to squirt warm water on yourself to dull the pain.
7. You’re using unnecessary feminine hygiene products.
“We’ve been led to believe that the vaginal area is super dirty, and we should be cleaning with deodorizers and perfumes—that’s not the case,” Dr. Dweck says. “The vagina has a good self-cleaning protocol, if you will, to keep its pH in balance and keep things in order.” But when you use products like douches or feminine hygiene washes, you might wind up with irritation that leads to urinary burning. If your skin is super sensitive, this can even happen from fragrant bubble baths, Dr. Dweck explains.
Really, you don’t need anything beyond a gentle, fragrance-free soap and some water to wash your vulva (part of your external genitalia), and you don’t even need to wash your actual vagina (the inside area of your genitalia). Let it clean itself in peace, please!
8. You’re dealing with post-menopause atrophic vaginitis.
Hormonal changes during menopause (mainly the loss of estrogen) can result in a phenomenon known as atrophic vaginitis, or vaginal atrophy, Dr. Yamaguchi says. The skin of the vulva and vagina thin out, which can lead to some burning and irritation during sex, urination, and while just going about your daily life. Sadly, almost half of people who experience this don’t seek treatment, either because they’ve given up hope on feeling better or they’re too shy to discuss it with their doctor, according to the Mayo Clinic. Don’t be one of them! If you’re dealing with this, chat with your doctor to determine whether hormonal supplementation may help your symptoms, and if not, how to find relief.