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What causes urethral discharge? 6 possible conditions

What Is a Urethral Discharge Culture?

A urethral discharge culture is used to identify infections in the urethra or genital tract. It is a test designed specifically for men and male children. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder through your penis and outside the body.

Urethral discharge culture testing can also be referred to as a culture of urethral discharge, or a genital exudate culture.

Purpose of Testing Urethral Discharge

Most often, your doctor will recommend a urethral discharge culture test if you have signs of a genital tract infection, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. These signs may include:

  • painful urination
  • increased urine frequency
  • discharge from the urethra
  • redness or swelling around the urethra
  • swollen testicles
  • a sore throat.

The goal of the test is to see if there are any bacteria or other microorganism present in the urethra. Since infections, such chlamydia, often present few or no symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends screening tests for anyone who has multiple sexual partners or does not always use a condom (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

What to Expect and How to Prepare

To obtain a culture from the urethra, your doctor will insert a swab into it. The process is quick, but it may be uncomfortable or slightly painful.

To prepare, refrain from urinating at least one hour prior to the test. Urinating may wash away some of the germs that the test is designed to capture.

How Is the Urethral Discharge Culture Taken?

Your doctor (or a nurse) will perform the test in his or her office.

First, your doctor or nurse will clean the area at the tip of the penis, where the urethra is located. Then, he or she will insert a sterile cotton swab about three-quarters of an inch into the urethra. Once the swab is inserted, they will turn the swab to ensure that a large enough sample is gathered.

The sample is then sent to the laboratory where it is put into a culture. Laboratory technicians monitor the sample and check for any bacterial or other growth. The test results should be available to you in a few days.

Understanding Your Test Results

A normal (negative) result means there was no growth in the culture and you do not have an infection.

An abnormal (positive) result means growth was detected in the culture, signaling an infection in the genital tract. Most commonly, this infection is gonorrhea or chlamydia.

Risks of Urethral Discharge Culture Testing

Urethral discharge culture testing is a relatively simple procedure. However, some risks include:

  • fainting (due to stimulation of the vagal nerve)
  • infection
  • bleeding

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.



Urethritis is an infection of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder and semen out of the body. Symptoms include burning while urinating, abdominal pain, and discharge.

Read more »


Chlamydia Infection

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that should be treated quickly in order to avoid complications. It is caused by bacteria that are usually spread through sexual contact. People with chlamydia often don't hav...

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Trichomonas Infection

Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. Symptoms include itching or burning in the penis or vagina, and discharge.

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Urinary Tract Infection

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria and can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Symptoms of upper UTIs include pain in the upper back, chills, fever, and nausea.

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Urethral Stricture

Usually the urethra is wide enough for urine to flow freely through it. When it narrows, it can restrict urinary flow. This is known as a urethral stricture.

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Reactive Arthritis (Reiter's Syndrome)

Reiter's syndrome produces inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joints due to infection elsewhere in the body. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, painful urination, and urethral discharge.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.