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.
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Urethritis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, including:
- Organisms that cause bladder or kidney infections
- Organisms that cause sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Other bacteria
Urethritis is more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of urethritis include:
- 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
People with urethritis may not have symptoms, especially women. About half of men infected with chlamydia have no symptoms.
Urethritis may cause:
- Pain and/or burning while urinating
- Blood in the urine
Increase in urinary:
- Itching, swelling, and/or tenderness in the groin
- Pain during sex
Urethritis symptoms specific to men may include:
- 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.
You will be asked 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
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 some viruses
Refraining from 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.
To help reduce your chance of urethritis::
- Practice safe sex by using condoms and barrier methods of contraception.
- Urinate immediately after having sexual intercourse.
- Tell all sexual partners who are infected or exposed so they may get treatment.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Adrienne Carmack, MD
- Reviewed: 08/2015
- Updated: 09/30/2013
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