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What is urethritis?

Urethritis is a bacterial infection that mainly affects men, women can be affected but symptoms are not usually noticeable. It is an inflammation of the tube called the urethra, which carries the urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis. When the exact cause of urethritis is not known it is often called non-specific urethritis or non-gonococcal urethritis if gonorrhoea is not the cause.

What causes urethritis?

Urethritis is not classed as a sexually transmitted disease, but most infections are caused through sexual infection, the most common being chlamydia though genital herpes and trichomonas can sometimes be the cause. Bacteria that cause’s urine tract infections can also cause urethritis.

Very rarely it can result from irritation from a product used in the genital area, such as bubble baths, soap or deodorants. It can also be caused by injury; the urethra is delicate and can be damaged during vigorous sexual activity.

Using a condom correctly and consistently will always reduce the risks of you catching any sexually transmitted disease. Urethritis may be experienced months or even years into a relationship and it doesn’t necessarily mean your partner has been unfaithful.

What are the symptoms of urethritis?

There are not always symptoms with urethritis but those associated with it include: –

  • Pain or a burning sensation when passing urine.
  • A white/cloudy discharge from the end of the penis.
  • The need to pass urine more frequently.
  • Irritation or itching around the end of the urethra.

These symptoms can be associated with many other diseases, so if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, you should visit your doctor or a G.U.M. clinic for advice. Women do not usually suffer with symptoms unless it spreads to the fallopian tubes or womb, where women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease.

How is urethritis diagnosed?

The doctor will begin by examining your genital area and he/she will usually take a sample from the penis, using a swab. You will also be asked to give a urine sample, so avoid going to the toilet for at least 2 hours before your appointment.

Is urethritis easily treated?

Yes, urethritis is easily treated with antibiotics. It is very important that any partners get checked as well, and treated, if necessary, otherwise re-infection can easily occur. A second visit to the clinic is usually recommended after treatment, to ensure the infection has gone. You should also avoid sex, (vaginal, anal or oral) even with a condom until the doctor has given you the all clear.

How can urethritis affect me in the future?

Urethritis may reappear but serious complications are rare. If urethritis is left untreated you may experience inflammation of the testicles (testes) and reduced fertility. Urethritis may also cause a type of arthritis called reactive arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints. This occurs when the immune system overreacts to the infection and attacks healthy tissue.