What Is Chlamydial Urethritis in Men?
Chlamydial urethritis in men is an infection of the urethra caused by the sexually transmitted infection (STI) chlamydia. The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.
This condition often causes swelling and inflammation of the urethra, accompanied by discharge. However, as with most STIs, men often do not display symptoms. An infected person and all sexual partners must receive treatment for STIs to prevent reinfection.
Causes of Chlamydial Urethritis in Men
Chlamydial urethritis is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. It is spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Both men and women can develop this common type of infection.
People who have multiple sexual partners are more likely to contract chlamydial urethritis than those who are monogamous. Men who do not practice safe sex also have a higher risk of chlamydial urethritis. Condoms can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. People under the age of 24 are also more likely to contract STIs in general including chlamydia (Mayo Clinic, 2011).
Symptoms of Chlamydial Urethritis in Men
Men with chlamydial urethritis may not show symptoms for several weeks after exposure to the bacteria, if they develop any symptoms at all. Symptoms of chlamydia and the related inflammation of the urethra usually occur between one and three weeks after exposure to Chlamydia trachomatis.
Signs of infection include:
- pain or burning during urination
- itching, redness, or swelling of the head of the penis
- discharge from the penis
- painful, swollen testicles
The urethra becomes inflamed during a bout of urethritis, making urination more difficult. Discomfort in the penis is generally limited to the tip, where the urethra ends.
Symptoms of chlamydial urethritis in men can mimic the symptoms of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. Gonorrhea and chlamydia infections often occur at the same time, and infected persons may require treatment for both STIs (NIH, 2010).
Diagnosing Chlamydial Urethritis in Men
Your doctor will perform a series of lab tests to diagnose chlamydial urethritis. You will be asked to give a urine sample, which will be tested for the presence of bacteria.
You may also need a urethral discharge culture (swab test) to rule out gonorrhea (which causes symptoms similar to chlamydial urethritis). A technician will swab the head of your penis with alcohol or another sterile agent. Then, he or she will insert a cotton swab into your urethra at the tip of your penis. The discharge or fluids collected will be analyzed to determine the source of your infection.
Treatment for Chlamydial Urethritis in Men
When a man is diagnosed with chlamydial urethritis, both he and his sexual partner(s) must be treated with antibiotics. Treating partners—even if they do not show signs of infection—prevents reinfection. Without proper treatment, sexual partners may continue to pass the bacteria back and forth.
Several antibiotics can eliminate chlamydial urethritis, including:
In most cases, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for five to 10 days. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that a higher dose (1 gram) of Azithromycin taken once may also be an effective treatment (CDC).
Most infections will resolve within a week or two. During treatment, it is important that you abstain from sex to prevent reinfection.
Complications of Chlamydial Urethritis
It is important to seek treatment for STIs as soon as symptoms occur. Untreated infections can spread and lead to more serious health complications in men, including:
- infection and pain near the testicles
- infection of the prostate gland
- stricture (narrowing of the urethra due to inflammation or infection)
Because men often do not show signs of infection right away, regular screenings for STIs (especially when changing partners or if you have multiple sexual partners) can diagnose STIs even if no symptoms are present.
How to Prevent Chlamydial Urethritis in Men
Men who are sexually active can prevent STIs with safe sex practices. Male and female condoms can greatly reduce the spread of infection. Make sure you use a new condom for each sexual contact. Regular screenings for STIs, including HIV, are important for anyone who is sexually active, and especially for those with multiple partners.