Written by Krista O'Connell | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Urethritis?

Urethritis is a condition that affects the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder so it can be expelled from the body. Semen also passes through the male urethra.

The core cause of urethritis is usually infection. This can cause the urethra to become irritated and inflamed.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, both males and females can develop urethritis. However, females have a greater chance of developing the condition than males. It affects people of all ages.

What Are the Main Causes of Urethritis?

Generally, most cases of urethritis can be attributed to a bacteria or a virus. The same bacteria that can cause bladder and kidney infections can also infect the lining of the urethra. Bacteria found naturally in the genital area may also cause urethritis if they enter the urinary tract.

According to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the same pathogens (the biological agents that cause illness) that cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause urethritis. These include the bacteria that cause, gonorrhea, and chlamydia and the parasite that causes trichomoniasis (BIDMC, 2008).

There are also viruses that can lead to the development of urethritis. These include the human papillomavirus (HPV), the herpes simplex virus, and the cytomegalovirus (BIDMC, 2008).

Common Symptoms of Urethritis

Symptoms in Men

Males with urethritis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a burning sensation while urinating
  • itching or burning near the opening of the penis
  • the presence of blood in semen and/or urine
  • discharge from the penis

Symptoms in Women

Some signs of urethritis in women include:

  • a more frequent urge to urinate
  • discomfort during urination
  • pain in the abdominal area
  • high body temperature
  • chills
  • a more urgent need to urinate
  • an abnormal discharge from the vagina

People who have urethritis often do not experience any noticeable symptoms. This is especially true for women. In men, symptoms may be silent if the urethritis developed as a result of a chlamydia or occasionally a trichomoniasis infection.

For this reason, it is important to be tested if you may have been infected with an STI.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Urethritis


A doctor will usually ask the patient about his or her symptoms. The doctor will likely also examine the genital area as part of the diagnostic process.

He or she may order tests to analyze a urine sample and/or a swab taken from the urethra and/or vaginal area. If a specific STI is suspected, there may be a test that can allow the doctor to confirm or rule out that potential diagnosis.


Urethritis can typically be treated through a course of either antibiotics or antiviral medication. Some common treatments for urethritis include tetracycline, doxycycline, erythromycin, and ofloxacin.

To avoid reinfection when the cause is an STI, it is vital that all of the patient’s partners be tested and treated if necessary as well.

The Importance of Practicing Safe Sex

Many of the bacteria that cause urethritis can be transmitted through sexual contact. Because of this, practicing safe sex is an important preventative measure. The tips below can help reduce your risk:

  • Avoid having intercourse with multiple partners.
  • Use condoms every time you have sex.
  • Get tested regularly.
  • Protect others. If you find out you have an STI, inform others who may also be infected.

Other Ways to Prevent Urethritis

Aside from safer sex practices, there are other ways to promote good urinary tract health. This can lower the risk of urethritis and some other conditions that affect this part of the body. Some measures include:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • urinating shortly after intercourse
  • avoid acidic foods
  • avoiding exposure to spermicides (particularly if you already know they irritate your urethra)

Complications from Urethritis

Urethritis can often be treated with medication quickly. If it is not treated, however, the effects can be lasting and quite serious. For one, the infection may spread to other parts of the urinary tract, including the ureters, kidneys, and bladder.

In addition, the STIs that frequently cause the condition can damage the reproductive system over time. They can even lead to infertility. For these reasons, any symptoms of urethritis should be brought to the attention of a physician as soon as possible.

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