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Urethritis at a glance

  • Urethritis is a common inflammatory condition caused by an infection in the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body.
  • Causes of urethritis include E. coli buildup in the urethra or sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
  • Those with urethritis may experience painful urination, painful intercourse and blood in the urine or semen.
  • Urethritis is curable and typically treated with antibiotics.

What is urethritis?

Urethritis is an infection caused by bacteria and inflammation in the urethra. The urethra is the tube that begins at the bladder and discharges urine from the body, at the tip of the penis in men and near the top of the vagina in women. Most cases of urethritis are caused by bacteria buildup on the skin around the urethra opening.

A urologist diagnoses urethritis by performing a physical examination of the genitals, abdomen and rectum. A urine test for the bacteria that causes chlamydia and gonorrhea or other bacteria can also help identify urethritis. Genital discharge may also be examined under a microscope in order to confirm urethritis. In rare cases, a blood test is required to identify and verify urethritis.

Causes of urethritis

Bacteria associated with the sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia and gonorrhea primarily cause urethritis. Gonococcal urethritis, commonly referred to as clap, is transmitted through sexual contact.

E. coli, bacteria found in the stool that commonly causes urinary tract infections, may also cause urethritis. Viral forms of urethritis are caused by the herpes simplex virus, trichomoniasis and cytomegalovirus. Other non-bacterial causes or urethritis include injury to the urethra and allergic reaction or sensitivity to chemicals found in spermicides or other contraceptive creams.

The risk of contracting urethritis increases for women in their reproductive years, as well as for males aged 25-35 because of increased sexual activity. Patients with multiple sexual partners and a history of previous sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also more likely to contract urethritis. Men and women can reduce their risk of urethritis by practicing such safe sex as condom use and monogamy.

Symptoms of urethritis

Painful urination is the most common indicator of urethritis. Needing to continuously urinate, feeling the continuous urge to urinate, or being challenged to start urination are also symptoms.

Other symptoms will vary among men and women. Women may experience painful sex, vaginal discharge, fever and chills, frequently needing to urinate and general pelvic pain. Men with urethritis may have blood in the urine or semen, experience an itchy, tender or swollen penis and enlarged lymph nodes in the groin region.

Treating urethritis

The symptoms of urethritis will clear naturally on their own over time. But if left untreated, urethritis can be passed along to any sexual partners. It is also important to seek treatment for underlying STDs that frequently cause urethritis, as they may damage the reproductive system over time.

Urethritis will clear with antibiotics or a combination of multiple antibiotics if the specific strand of urethritis cannot be identified.