The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. Urethritis occurs when this tube becomes infected. It leads to swelling and pain when urinating.
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This infection is often caused by bacteria. The bacteria cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to grow. The infection can then move up and spread into the tract. If the infection is not treated is can lead to a severe kidney infection.
The bacteria may normally live in the colon or vagina. It is able to pass or is moved to the opening of the urethra. The infection can also be spread from a partner during sexual activity. Less often a virus or fungus may cause the infection.
Urethritis is more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of urethritis include:
- Being sexually active
- Use of spermicides
- Recent change in sexual partners
- Unprotected sex (without use of a condom)
- History of other STDs
- Having catheters or tubes placed in the bladder
- Medications that lower resistance to bacterial infection
Some may not have symptoms. This is more common in women.
Urethritis may cause:
- Pain and/or burning while urinating
- Blood in the urine
Increase in urinary:
- Itching, swelling, and/or tenderness in the groin
- Pain during sex
Urethritis symptoms specific to men may include:
- Discharge from the penis
- Blood in the semen
- Pain during ejaculation
- Swollen and/or tender testicles
If left untreated, urethritis can spread. Other parts of the urinary tract can be affected. This may include infections of the bladder or kidneys.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done with a pelvic exam. The doctor may know it is urethritis from the symptoms. A sample of urine will be checked for pus or blood. Further tests may be done to look for the exact type of germ that is causing the problem.
Urethritis is usually treated with medication. The type of medication will depend on the cause of the infection:
- Antibiotics—to treat urethritis caused by bacteria
- Antiviral drugs—to treat urethritis caused by some viruses
You may need to avoid sexual activity until treatment is done. UTIs can be passed between sexual partners. Ask your doctor if your partner should consider getting treatment as well.
To help reduce your chance of urethritis:
- Practice safe sex by using condoms and barrier methods of contraception.
- Empty your bladder immediately after having sex.
- Tell all sexual partners who are infected or exposed so they may get treatment.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Urology Care Foundation
Canadian Urological Association
Women's Health Matters
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Diseases characterized by urethritis and cervicitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/urethritis-and-cervicitis.htm. Updated January 28, 2011. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Miller KE. Diagnosis and treatment of Chlamydia trachomatis infection. Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(8):1411-1416.
Nongonococcal urethritis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116488/Nongonococcal-urethritis. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2016.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD Last Updated: 2/26/2018