Why It Burns When You Pee Sometimes

Photographed by Julia Robbs.
We take our bathroom business very seriously. Honestly, sometimes it's the most relaxing part of the day, which is why we protect it so fiercely — and why we get so worried when something is off. Like, you know, when it suddenly burns with the fire of a thousand Sriracha bottles every time you pee.
If it's any comfort, painful urination is exceedingly common. How often do women ask doctors about this particular symptom? "All the time," says Raquel B. Dardik, MD, an ob/gyn at NYU Langone Medical Center. So there you go — you're far from alone, and there's no need to be embarrassed.
But just because it's common doesn't mean it's always simple to diagnose. That's partly because the burning sensation could originate from a variety of places, both internal (like your bladder) or external (the skin around your vagina). "When you don’t have the very classic symptoms of a bladder infection [e.g. feeling like you have to pee all the time], it’s hard to tell if it’s the bladder or the vaginal area that's causing pain," Dr. Dardik says. Essentially any dry or irritated skin around your vagina can become inflamed when it comes into contact with urine because "you’re putting acid on skin that’s irritated."
So if your bathroom stall texts are coming with a few more fire emoji these days, you'll want to check in with your doctor to figure out what's really going on. Here are a few of the culprits she might pinpoint:
Urinary Tract Infection
The most common cause of that burning sensation is a UTI. These occur when bacteria from outside of your body make it to your bladder, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, a frequent need to pee, and, yes, burning when you go to the bathroom.
If you've had one before, you're probably already well-attuned to those symptoms — and you know when you're getting another one. But your doctor will still probably want to see you in her office before prescribing a round of antibiotics.
"When you treat a UTI, you’re guessing which bacteria is in there, which means you’re guessing which antibiotic will work," explains Dr. Dardik. So if you get a prescription without getting your urine tested and you're not feeling better in a few days, your doctor won't know if it's because she gave you the wrong kind of antibiotic or because you don't really have a UTI. "You have no idea what you treated in the first place," she says. So, it may be a(n extra) pain to get an appointment with your doc, but you'll be glad you did it.
"Anything that breaks the integrity of the skin will cause burning when you urinate," says Dr. Dardik. That means some STIs can definitely cause pain. If you're in the middle of a herpes outbreak, for instance, you may have sores that will be particularly sensitive to urine. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are also known to cause painful peeing.
Skin Irritation
Again, anything that messes with the skin around your vaginal and urethral areas can cause painful, burning urination. And that's a long list of possibilities: Burning when you pee may be a result of a yeast infection, which causes irritation and itchiness (read: more irritation) around the vagina and vulva. You might also feel that pain after particularly rough intercourse. Even a change in your laundry detergent could irritate your skin. Menopause can also cause drying of the vaginal area.
So as annoying as it is, get to that doc — and make your bathroom visits great again.

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