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Urethritis

(Urethral Infection)

Pronounced: u-reh-thri-tis

Definition

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.

Female Urethra

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Causes    TOP

Urethritis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, including:

Risk Factors    TOP

Risk factors that increase your chance of getting urethritis include:

  • Sex: female
  • 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
  • Spermicides

Symptoms    TOP

People with urethritis may not have symptoms, especially women. About half of men infected with chlamydia have no symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and/or burning while urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Increase in urinary:
    • Frequency
    • Urgency
  • Itching, swelling, and/or tenderness in the groin
  • Pain during sex
  • In men:
    • 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.

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask 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

Treatment    TOP

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 a some viruses

Refraining form 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.

Prevention    TOP

Steps to prevent urethritis include:

  • Practicing safe sex by using condoms and barrier methods of contraception
  • Urinating immediately after having sexual intercourse
  • Treating all sexual partners who are infected or exposed
  • Regularly drinking plenty of fluids

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov
Urology Care Foundation
http://www.urologyhealth.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Urological Association
http://www.cua.org
Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR . 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines, Clinical prevention guidance. MMWR Recomm Rep . 2006;55(R11):1-94.
Diseases characterized by urethritis and cervicitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov... . Updated January 28, 2011. Accessed November 1, 2012.
Diseases characterized by urethritis and cervicitis. MMWR Recomm Rep . 2006;55(R11):1-94.
Miller KE. Diagnosis and treatment of Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Am Fam Physician . 2006;73:1411-1416.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013