Urethral Syndrome

Written by Krista O'Connell | Published on June 22, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Urethral Syndrome

Urethral syndrome, also known as symptomatic abacteriuria, has many of the same symptoms as urethritis (infection and inflammation of the urethra). These symptoms include abdominal pain and frequent, painful urination. Both conditions cause irritation to the urethra.

The main difference between the two conditions is that urethritis usually develops because of a bacteria or a virus, while urethral syndrome often has no clear cause.

The urethra is the tube that extends from the bladder to the outside of the body. Its function is to transport urine and/or semen.

Who Is at Risk for Urethral Syndrome?

According to the Summit Medical Group, adults of any age can develop this condition. However, the vast majority of individuals affected are women. It is rare in men (Summit Medical Group, 2009).

Potential Causes and Risk Factors for Urethral Syndrome

Causes

There is no single cause of urethral syndrome. Common causes may include physical problems with the urethra (such as abnormal narrowing), and urethra irritation or injury.

Scented products, such as perfumes, soaps, bubble bath, and sanitary napkins, can cause urethra irritation. Other potential irritants include spermicidal jellies, certain foods and drinks containing caffeine, and chemotherapy and radiation.

Sexual activity, diaphragm and tampon use, and bike riding can all cause injury to the urethra.

If a bacterial or viral infection is found, then the condition is considered urethritis. In some cases, however, your doctor may suspect an infection, but will not be able to confirm the infection through testing. In these cases, the issue will be considered and treated as “urethral syndrome.”

Risk Factors

The items in the following list are not thought to directly cause urethral syndrome. However, they are believed to increase the risk of developing it. Risk factors include:

  • 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 (females)

Recognizing the Symptoms Result From Urethral Syndrome?

This condition causes a variety of symptoms. In both sexes, it can cause:

  • lower abdominal pain and/or sensations of pressure
  • a sense of urgency to urinate
  • more frequent urination
  • trouble urinating
  • pain during urination and/or sex
  • discomfort in the vulvar area (women)
  • blood in the urine

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

How Is Urethral Syndrome Diagnosed?

A diagnosis is usually made when the obvious causes for symptoms—specifically, infections by viruses and bacteria—are ruled out.

Your doctor will first want to review your symptoms and medical history. Then, he or she may also perform a physical examination and take a urine sample. Your doctor may also decide to take a blood sample or perform an ultrasound on the pelvic region.

If initial, straightforward treatments prove unsuccessful, your doctor may need to use a scope to get a view of the urethra’s interior.

Treatment Options for Urethral Syndrome

Doctors may use a number of approaches to treat this condition.

Medication

The most common classes of medications used for urethral syndrome are antibiotics, anesthetics, antispasmodics, antidepressants, and alpha-blockers.

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may ask you to stop using products or engaging in activities that can irritate the urethra, such as scented soaps or long bike rides.

Surgery

In some cases, your doctor may decide to widen the 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.

Tips to Prevent Urethral Syndrome

Those who have had this condition in the past can take several measures to help ensure it doesn’t recur 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 a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Make an effort to urinate as soon as possible after engaging in sexual intercourse.
  • Wipe the genital area using a front to back motion.
  • Avoid jeans and/or pantyhose that are overly tight.
  • Wear cotton instead of nylon underwear.

Controversy Around Urethral Syndrome

As a final note, it is important to keep in mind that just because there is often no obvious bacterial or viral cause for urethral syndrome, it does not mean the patient is faking or that the symptoms are in his or her head.

The pain and discomfort someone with this condition experiences is very real. This assertion is supported by the fact that taking medications and making certain lifestyle changes can provide relief and/or prevent symptoms from recurring.

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Article Sources:

  • 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.

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