Urethritis

Definition

Urethritis is an inflammation, infection, or irritation of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder.

Female Urethra
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Causes

Urethritis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, including:

Risk Factors

Risk factors that increase your chance of getting urethritis include:

  • Sex: female
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Recent change in sexual partners
  • Unprotected sex (without use of a condom)
  • History of other STDs
  • Bacterial infection of other parts of the urinary tract (bladder, kidney, prostate)
  • Medications that lower resistance to bacterial infection
  • Having catheters or tubes placed in the bladder
  • Acidic foods
  • Spermicides

Symptoms

People with urethritis may not have symptoms, especially women. About half of men infected with chlamydia have no symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and/or burning while urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Increase in urinary:
    • Frequency
    • Urgency
  • Itching, swelling, and/or tenderness in the groin
  • Pain during sex
  • In men:
    • Discharge from the penis
    • Blood in the semen
    • Pain during ejaculation
    • Swollen and/or tender testicles

If left untreated, urethritis can spread and cause infection in other parts of the urinary tract such as the bladder, ureters, or kidneys.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It will include a pelvic exam. Urethritis is usually diagnosed from its symptoms. Tests to confirm the diagnosis and identify the organism causing the condition may include:

  • Urethral swab for microscopic study or culture
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Specific tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia, or other STDs

Treatment

Urethritis is usually treated with medication. The type of medication will depend on the cause of the urethral infection:

  • Antibiotics—to treat urethritis caused by bacteria
  • Antiviral drugs—to treat urethritis caused by a some viruses

Refraining form sexual activity recommended until 7 days after initiation of therapy.

If urethritis is caused by an STD, all sexual partners should be tested and treated.

Prevention

Steps to prevent urethritis include:

  • Practicing safe sex by using condoms and barrier methods of contraception
  • Urinating immediately after having sexual intercourse
  • Treating all sexual partners who are infected or exposed
  • Regularly drinking plenty of fluids

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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