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 by bacteria.
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 urethra.
According to Antimicrobe, urethritis occurs in approximately 4 million Americans each year. Nongonococcal urethritis accounting for 80 percent of the cases.
- Urethritis Causes
- What are the symptoms of urethritis?
- Complications of Urethritis
Most episodes of urethritis are caused by infection by bacteria that enter the urethra from the skin around the urethra’s opening. Bacteria that commonly cause urethritis include:
- E. coli and other bacteria present in stool
- Gonococcus, which is sexually transmitted and causes gonorrhea.
- Chlamydia trachomatis, which is sexually transmitted and causes chlamydia.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can also cause urethritis. Trichomonas is another cause of urethritis. It is a single-celled organism that is sexually transmitted.
Sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia are usually confined to the urethra. But they may extend into women’s reproductive organs, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
In men, gonorrhea and chlamydia sometimes cause epididymitis, an infection of the epididymis, a tube on the outside of the testes. Both PID and epididymitis can lead to infertility.
Symptoms in men
Males with urethritis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- burning sensation while urinating
- itching or burning near the opening of the penis
- presence of blood in the semen or urine
- discharge from the penis
Symptoms in women
Some symptoms of urethritis in women include:
- more frequent urge to urinate
- discomfort during urination
- burning or irritation at the urethral opening
- abnormal 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 trichomoniasis infection.
For this reason, it’s important to undergo testing if you may have been infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Your doctor will ask about your sexual history, including new partners and condom use. Your doctor will look for an abnormal discharge from your urethra. In women, a pelvic examination will be done to look for tenderness, redness or abnormal discharge from the cervix and vagina. Because urethritis usually is caused by sexually transmitted infections, your doctor will examine you for signs of other infections, such as syphilis, genital warts caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) and HIV.
Urethritis caused by injury or chemical irritation is diagnosed based on your medical history and the absence of an infectious cause.
Infections of the urethra that are not treated or are inadequately treated may cause a narrowing (stricture) of the urethra. A stricture increases the risk that infections will develop in the bladder or the kidneys. Untreated gonorrhea rarely leads to an accumulation of pus (abscess) around the urethra. An abscess can cause outpouchings from the urethral wall (urethral diverticula), which can also become infected. If the abscess perforates the skin, the vagina, or the rectum, urine may flow through a newly created abnormal connection (urethral fistula).
Non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) is usually treated with a short course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria that caused the infection.
The healthcare professionals at the genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic will arrange your treatment.
If your urethritis is caused by gonorrhoea, this may be treated differently.
Treatment with antibiotics may be started before you receive your test results. Most people with NGU are prescribed antibiotic tablets or capsules.
This may be:
- azithromycin – taken just once as a single dose
- doxycycline – taken twice a day for seven days
You won’t usually need to return to the clinic as long as you’ve:
- taken your treatment
- made sure that any recent partners have been treated
- not had any sex until a week after everyone has been treated
It may sometimes take two or three weeks for your symptoms to disappear completely.
You shouldn’t have sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, until:
- you’ve finished your course of doxycycline, or it’s been seven days since you took azithromycin
- you have no symptoms
- your partner or partners have also been treated
Antibiotics may cause some side effects, such as:
- feeling sick