Urethral syndrome is a condition that affects the urethra, the tube that extends from your bladder to the outside of the body. The urethra is responsible for transporting urine and semen out of the body. People with urethral syndrome have an inflamed or irritated urethra.
Urethral syndrome, also known as symptomatic abacteriuria, has many of the same symptoms as urethritis, which is an infection and inflammation of the urethra. These symptoms include abdominal pain and frequent, painful urination. Both conditions cause irritation to your urethra.
Urethritis usually develops because of a bacteria or a virus, but urethral syndrome often has no clear cause.
Adults of any age can develop this condition, but it’s most common in women.
Causes and Risk Factors
Urethral syndrome has various causes. Common causes may include physical problems with the urethra, such as abnormal narrowing, and urethral irritation or injury.
The following can cause irritation to the urethra:
- scented products, such as perfumes, soaps, bubble bath, and sanitary napkins
- spermicidal jellies
- certain foods and drinks containing caffeine
- chemotherapy and radiation
Injury to the urethra can be caused by certain activities, such as:
- sexual activity
- diaphragm use
- tampon use
- bike riding
The condition is considered to be urethritis if a bacterial or viral infection is found. In some cases, however, your doctor may suspect an infection is causing the issue, but tests won’t be able to find any infection. If this happens, your doctor will consider this to be urethral syndrome and treat it the same way as they would urethral syndrome.
These factors are believed to increase your risk of developing urethral syndrome:
- having bladder or kidney infections caused by bacteria
- taking certain medications
- having sex without a condom
- contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- engaging in sexual intercourse (for women)
This condition causes a variety of symptoms. In both sexes, it can cause:
- lower abdominal pain
- a feeling of pressure in the abdomen
- a sense of urgency to urinate
- more frequent urination
- trouble urinating
- pain during urination or sex
- blood in the urine
In women, urethral syndrome can also cause discomfort in the vulvar area.
There are also a few symptoms found only in men. These include:
- swelling of the testicles
- pain while ejaculating
- blood in the semen
- discharge from the penis
A diagnosis is usually made when the obvious causes for symptoms are ruled out. These causes include infections caused by viruses and bacteria.
Your doctor will first want to review your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical examination and take a urine sample. Your doctor may decide to take a blood sample or perform an ultrasound on the pelvic region.
Your doctor may need to use a scope to get a view of the inside of your urethra if the first few treatments don’t work.
Doctors may use a number of approaches to treat this condition. Lifestyle changes, medications, and, in rare cases, surgery can help relieve your symptoms and prevent the condition from coming back.
Your doctor may ask you to stop using products or doing activities that can irritate your urethra. These can include using scented soaps or going on long bike rides.
The following are the most common classes of medications used for urethral syndrome:
- Antibiotics are often used if your doctor suspects an infection that isn’t appearing on tests.
- Anesthetics, such as phenazopyridine and lidocaine, can be used.
- Antispasmodics, such as hyoscyamine and oxybutynin, can be used.
- Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, act on your nerves to help relieve chronic pain.
- Alpha-blockers, such as doxazosin and prazosin, improve blood flow by relaxing the muscles in your blood vessels.
In some cases, your doctor may need to widen your urethra by performing surgery or by using dilators. This is done only if the symptoms are thought to be due to constriction of the urethra. Constriction can occur due to injury, inflammation, and the development of scar tissue.
If you’ve had this condition in the past, you can take these steps to help ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future:
- Avoid products known to irritate the urethra.
- Avoid unsafe sex.
- Get tested and treated promptly if you suspect or know you have an STI.
- Make an effort to urinate as soon as possible after having sexual intercourse.
- Wipe your genital area using a front to back motion.
- Avoid wearing jeans and pantyhose that are too tight.
- Wear cotton instead of nylon underwear.
There’s often no obvious bacterial or viral cause for urethral syndrome, but the symptoms, pain, and discomfort that this condition causes often require treatment. Talk to your doctor to figure out if medications or lifestyle changes are best for you. These can provide relief and help prevent your symptoms from returning.