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Urethritis

Definition

Urethritis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the body.

Alternative Names

Urethral syndrome; NGU; Non-gonococcal urethritis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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:

  • Injury
  • Sensitivity to the chemicals used in spermicides or contraceptive jellies, creams, or foams

Risks for urethritis include:

  • Being a female in the reproductive years
  • Being male, ages 20 - 35
  • Having many sexual partners
  • High-risk sexual behavior (such as anal sex without a condom)
  • History of sexually transmitted diseases

Symptoms

In men:

In women:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Burning pain while urinating
  • Fever and chills
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal discharge

Signs and tests

The health care provider will perform a physical examination. In men, the exam will include the abdomen, bladder area, penis, and scrotum. The physical exam may show:

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Tender and enlarged lymph nodes in the groin area
  • Tender and swollen penis

A digital rectal exam will also be performed.

Women will have abdominal and pelvic exams. The health care provider will check for:

  • Discharge from the urethra
  • Tenderness of the lower abdomen
  • Tenderness of the urethra

The following tests may be done:

Treatment

The goals of therapy are to:

  • Eliminate the cause of infection
  • Improve symptoms
  • Prevent the spread of infection

If you have an infection, you will be given antibiotics.

See also:

You may take pain relievers (including 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.

Expectations (prognosis)

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.

Complications

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:

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of urethritis.

Prevention

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.

References

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.


Review Date: 9/3/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Scott Miller, MD, Urologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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