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Urethritis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the body.
Urethral syndrome; NGU; Non-gonococcal urethritis
Urethritis may be caused by bacteria or a virus. The same bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (E. coli) and some sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea) can lead to urethritis. Viral causes of urethritis include herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus.
Other causes include:
Risks for urethritis include:
The doctor or nurse will examine you. In men, the exam will include the abdomen, bladder area, penis, and scrotum. The physical exam may show:
A digital rectal exam will also be performed.
Women will have abdominal and pelvic exams. The health care provider will check for:
Your health care provider may look into your bladder using a tube with a camera on the end. This is called cystoscopy.
The following tests may be done:
The goals of treatment are to:
If you have an infection, you will be given antibiotics.
You may take pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or phenazopyridine (Pyridium), which works on the urinary tract, along with antibiotics.
People with urethritis who are being treated should avoid sex or use condoms during sex. If an infection is the cause of the inflammation, your sexual partner must also be treated.
Urethritis caused by trauma or chemical irritants is treated by avoiding the source of injury or irritation.
Urethritis that does not clear up after antibiotic treatment and lasts for at least 6 weeks is called chronic urethritis. Different antibiotics may be used to treat this problem.
With the correct diagnosis and treatment, urethritis usually clears up without any complications.
However, urethritis can lead to permanent damage to the urethra (scar tissue called urethral stricture) and other urinary organs in both men and women.
Men with urethritis are at risk for the following complications:
After a severe infection, the urethra may become scarred and then narrowed (urethral stricture).
Women with urethritis are at risk for the following complications:
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of urethritis.
Some causes of urethritis may be avoided with good personal hygiene and by practicing safer sexual behaviors such as monogamy (one sexual partner only) and using condoms.
Brill JR. Diagnosis and treatment of urethritis in men. Am Fam Physician. 2010;81:873-878.
McCormack WM. Urethritis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 106.
Cohen MS. Approach to the patient with a sexually transmitted disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 293.