What is urethritis?
Urethritis is a condition in which the urethra, or the tube that
carries urine from the bladder to outside the body, becomes inflamed and
irritated. Semen also passes through the male urethra.
Urethritis typically causes pain while urinating and an
increased urge to urinate. The primary cause of urethritis is usually infection
Urethritis is not the same as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra, while a UTI is an infection of
the urinary tract. They may have similar symptoms, but require different
methods of treatment depending on the underlying cause of the urethritis.
Urethritis affects people of all ages. Both males and females
can develop the condition. However, females have a greater chance of developing
the condition than males. This is partly because men’s urethras, which are the
length of the penis, are much longer than women’s. A woman’s urethra is typically
one and a half inches long. That makes it easier for bacteria to enter the
According to Antimicrobe, urethritis
occurs in approximately 4 million
each year. Nongonococcal urethritis accounting for 80 percent of the cases.
What are the symptoms
Symptoms in men
Males with urethritis may experience one or more of the
- burning sensation
- itching or
burning near the opening of the penis
- presence of blood
in the semen or urine
- discharge from
Symptoms in women
Some symptoms of urethritis in women include:
- more frequent
urge to urinate
- discomfort during
- burning or
irritation at the urethral opening
discharge from the vagina may also be present along with the urinary symptoms
People who have urethritis may also not have any noticeable
symptoms. This is especially true for women. In men, symptoms may not be
apparent if the urethritis developed as a result of chlamydia or occasionally
For this reason, it’s important to undergo testing if you may
have been infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Generally, most cases of urethritis are the result of an
infection from either a bacteria or a virus. Bacteria are the most common
causes. The same bacteria that can cause bladder and kidney infections can also
infect the lining of the urethra. Bacteria found naturally in the genital area
may also cause urethritis if they enter the urinary tract.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bacteria
associated with urethritis include:
Pathogens are the biological agents that cause illness. The same
pathogens that cause STIs can also cause urethritis. These include the bacteria
that cause gonorrhea and chlamydia and the parasite that causes trichomoniasis.
There are also viruses that can lead to the development of
urethritis. These include the human papillomavirus (HPV), the herpes simplex
virus (HSV), and the cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Types of urethritis
There are different types of urethritis, classified by the cause
of the inflammation. They are gonococcal urethritis and nongonococcal
Gonococcal urethritis is caused by the same bacterium that
causes the STI gonorrhea. It accounts for 20 percent of cases of urethritis.
Nongonococcal urethritis is urethritis caused by other infections
that are not gonorrhea. Chlamydia is a common cause of nongonococcal
urethritis, with other STIs also being a probable culprit.
It is possible, however, for irritation unrelated to STIs to occur.
These causes can include injury, such as from a catheter, or other kinds of
While plenty of patients have either one type of urethritis or
the other, it’s possible to have different causes of urethritis at once. This
is especially true in women.
How is urethritis
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. They’ll likely
also examine the genital area for discharge, tenderness, sores and any signs of
an STI. This can help them to make a diagnosis.
They may order tests to analyze a urine sample or a swab taken
from the urethra or vaginal area. If the doctor suspects a specific STI, there
will likely be a test that can allow the doctor to confirm or rule out that
potential diagnosis. Blood tests may be taken to check for other STIs, like HIV
Depending on your doctor and their lab, you can get test results
back in as soon as a few days. This allows them to start you on treatment as
soon as possible, and to let you know whether your partner needs to be tested
and treated, too.
What are the
treatment options for urethritis?
Treatment for urethritis typically includes a course of either
antibiotics or antiviral medication. Some common treatments for urethritis
- azithromycin, an antibiotic, typically taken as a one time dose
- doxycycline, an oral
antibiotic that is typically taken twice a day for seven days
- erythromycin, an antibiotic
that can be administered orally, four times a day for seven days
- ofloxacin, an oral
antibiotic that is typically taken twice a day for seven days
- levofloxacin an
oral antibiotic that is typically taken once a day for seven days
If an STI caused the infection, it’s vital that all sexual
partners undergo testing and treatment if necessary. This prevents the spread
of the STI and reinfection.
You may see improvement in your symptoms just a few days after
beginning treatment. You should still finish out your prescription as
recommended by your doctor, or the infection could come become worse. Those
with urethritis should wait one week once they are completely finished with
their prescription and their partner has finished treatment before resuming
Potential drug interactions for the medications used to treat
- blood-thinning medications
- heart medications
- seizure medications
What are the
complications associated with urethritis?
Medication can often treat urethritis quickly. If the infection
goes untreated, however, the effects can be lasting and quite serious. For
example, the infection may spread to other parts of the urinary tract,
including the ureters, kidneys, and bladder. These infections can be painful on
their own. While they can be treated with more intensive rounds of antibiotics,
they can cause damage to the organs if left untreated for too long. These untreated
infections can also spread to the blood and result in sepsis, which can be
In addition, the STIs that frequently cause urethritis can
damage the reproductive system. Women may develop pelvic inflammatory disease
(PID), which is painful and can result in infertility, ongoing pelvic pain, or
pain during sex. Women with untreated STIs are also at a higher risk for
ectopic pregnancies, which can be life-threatening.
Men may develop painful inflammation or infection of the
prostate gland, or the narrowing of a section of the urethra due to scarring,
leading to painful urination. For these reasons, you should speak with a doctor
as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of urethritis.
How can I prevent
Many of the bacteria that cause urethritis can pass to another
person through sexual contact. Because of this, practicing safe sex is an
important preventive measure. The tips below can help reduce your risk:
- Avoid having
intercourse with multiple partners.
- Use condoms every
time you have sex.
- Get tested
- Protect others.
If you find out you have an STI, inform others who are also at risk of an
Aside from safer sex practices, there are other ways to promote
good urinary tract health. This can lower your risk of urethritis and some
other conditions that affect this part of the body. Drink plenty of fluids and
make sure to urinate shortly after intercourse. Avoid acidic foods. Also, avoid
exposure to spermicides, particularly if you already know they irritate your