Urethritis is a condition in which the urethra, or the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body, becomes inflamed and irritated. Semen also passes through the male urethra. Urethritis typically causes pain while urinating and an increased urge to urinate. The primary cause of urethritis is usually infection by bacteria.
Urethritis affects people of all ages. Both males and females can develop the condition. However, females have a greater chance of developing the condition than males.
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 the semen or urine
- discharge from the penis
Symptoms in Women
Some symptoms of urethritis in women include:
- a more frequent urge to urinate
- discomfort during urination
- pain in the abdominal area
- a high body temperature
- a more urgent need to urinate
- an abnormal discharge from the vagina
People who have urethritis may also not have any noticeable symptoms. This is especially true for women. In men, symptoms may be silent if the urethritis developed as a result of chlamydia or occasionally trichomoniasis infection.
For this reason, it’s important to undergo testing if you may have been infected with an STI.
Generally, most cases of urethritis are the result of a bacteria or 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 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), bacteria associated with urethritis include:
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae
- Chlamydia trachomatis
- Mycoplasma genitalium
Pathogens are the biological agents that cause illness. The same pathogens 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.
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.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. They’ll likely also examine the genital area to make a diagnosis.
They may order tests to analyze a urine sample or a swab taken from the urethra or vaginal area. If the doctor suspects a specific STI, there will likely be a test that can allow the doctor to confirm or rule out that potential diagnosis.
Treatment for urethritis typically includes a course of either antibiotics or antiviral medication. Some common treatments for urethritis include:
If an STI caused the infection, it’s vital that all sexual partners undergo testing and treatment if necessary. This prevents the spread of the STI and reinfection.
Medication can often treat urethritis quickly. If the infection goes untreated, however, the effects can be lasting and quite serious. For example, 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, you should speak with a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of urethritis.
Many of the bacteria that cause urethritis can pass to another person through sexual contact. Because of this, practicing safe sex is an important preventive 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 are also at risk of an infection.
Aside from safer sex practices, there are other ways to promote good urinary tract health. This can lower your risk of urethritis and some other conditions that affect this part of the body. Drink plenty of fluids and make sure to urinate shortly after intercourse. Avoid acidic foods. Also, avoid exposure to spermicides, particularly if you already know they irritate your urethra.
You Asked, We Answered
- Are there any home remedies that can help alleviate the symptoms of urethritis? If so, what are they?
Here are some options.
A teaspoon of baking soda in a full glass of water at the onset of urethritis can help ease the burning sensation. However, baking soda can cancel out other remedies, especially cranberry juice, and it should be used sparingly.
Cranberry juice contains compounds that keep bacteria from sticking to your urinary tract. There’s some evidence that suggests it may reduce recurrent UTIs. Drink unsweetened cranberry juice daily until the infection disappears. You can also take cranberry extract capsules if you prefer.- Steve Kim, M.D.