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What Is It?

Dysuria is the medical term for pain or discomfort when urinating. Often described as a burning sensation, dysuria most commonly is caused by bacterial infections of the urinary tract.

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 opening where urine comes out (urethra) 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 occur more commonly:

  • During pregnancy

  • In men with an enlarged prostate

  • In people with diabetes

  • In people with abnormal bladder function

  • In people with persistent kidney stones

  • In children with 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.

Pyelonephritis is more common in women than in men.

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

Vaginitis Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina. It 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. It can also be caused by infection. Common infections 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

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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